published Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says state job cuts haven't hurt services

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured in this file photo. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured in this file photo. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)
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Has Tennessee cut too many state employees?

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee government services have not suffered even though there are fewer full-time state workers on the job today than before the 2008 recession, Gov. Bill Haslam says.

Following a speech to the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, the governor said Monday that "our focus is on producing results. And one of the things you have to look is what's the best way to do that. So I actually think that the state services in Tennessee have not fallen off."

Haslam, who took office in January, was responding to a Times Free Press report about the 9 percent decline in full-time employees over the past four budgets. Tennessee State Employees Association officials said fewer workers are creating problems in state services.

Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Robert O'Connell said he has concerns about the impact of cuts both on state workers and ordinary Tennesseans because "the services that these people provide are not going to be available."

Haslam disagreed.

"If you look at our state's services, one of the things we're trying to do is make every one of them better, whether it be fixing potholes or getting you the permit that you need or making certain that you get your benefits when you're supposed to," the governor said. "As a matter of fact, our commitment is to make them even better."

Legislative figures show there were 47,102 full-time positions in fiscal year 2007-08. In the four budgets following the 2008 recession, that number has fallen to a projected 42,856 in the current 2012 budget that took effect July 1.

State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said he also is worried about the impact of fewer state workers.

"Like every taxpayer, I am concerned whenever you see government waste or excessive people," Berke said. "At this point, however, my concern is that we have allowed people to leave because of attrition without replacing them.

"So you end up with gaps not because you've cut purposely, but just because that's where people happened to have left," Berke said. "In the long run, we'll need to assess how we deliver our services with the right number of people rather than downsizing just through attrition."

The senator said he hears "occasional complaints from constituents who are trying to obtain services and can't get to the right people."

During his speech to Farm Bureau members, Haslam said state revenues are expected to grow by $300 million this budget year, but demands in areas such as the state's K-12 school funding formula, health care, TennCare and employee pensions, costs are expected to grow by $500 million.

"So we're having to take a look at making some hard looks at adjustments," Haslam said.

After taking office, Haslam ordered department heads to conduct "top to bottom reviews" of operations to determine how effectively the state is providing services, whether the state should even be providing a particular service and whether it can be outsourced more cheaply.

The website TNReport recently reported that just two of the 23 departmental reports have been completed but others are in the finishing stages or awaiting approval to be incorporated in Haslam's recommendations to lawmakers next year.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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prairiedog said...

In most cases, reducing the size of government agencies will actually increase their productivity. This is because, other than the few that actually meet the public and provide direct service, there are more government workers than are needed. How does this happen? Government expands by promoting civil servants into supervisory positions which then require -- TADAAAA! -- people to supervise. When there's not enough money in the budget to effectively use the skills of the few people who actually have them, the people stay on but don't do anything to actually benefit the taxpayers.

I worked for seven years in a U S Government position in a "major" military command where 500 people on the General's staff were required to "supervise and direct" the work of 1000 people who were actually turning wrenches to repair equipment. At least 300 of the 500 could have been eliminated with no loss of effectiveness because the 300 were all involved with stuff like the marching band, publicity, marketing (yup, that's done in your government these days in what they call a public-private enterprise arrangement), managing and maintaining the extra buildings and offices needed to house the excess 300, etc.

Why did we have 500 people? Because that's how many are needed to justify a two-star general and a SES (senior executive service) civilian deputy to be in charge.

One of the goals of civilian federal employment is to further "social" goals such as the correction of past wrongs with regard to equal opportunity. There's nothing wrong with that in principle, as long as the taxpayers are willing to support it. The minority employees who are benefiting from such policies are, with rare exception, highly professional and productive people who are dedicated to doing their jobs and to advancement in their professions. The question is, do we as taxpayers benefit from funding those jobs?

For some agencies, the answer is "yes." DoD is a great example. Other agencies (education, energy, portions of the department of the interior) may not be contributing to the common good as much as they are to the good of the employees alone.

Congress is going to be making some big cuts over the next few years. Most of the cuts will never affect the public or the welfare of the taxpayers at all. I emphasize the word, "taxpayers," as being those who actually pay taxes. In general, the lives of taxpayers will be better if about 40% of federal government workers are sent back to the private sector.

December 6, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.
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