Concerned that Gov. Bill Haslam’s “top-to-bottom review” of state government will translate into eliminating programs and laying off state workers, the Tennessee State Employees Association said Tuesday it will offer alternative proposals.
At a news conference in front of the state Capitol, TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the 14,000-member organization is soliciting proposals for better efficiency in government operations with the idea of “cutting waste, not services.”
O’Connell said the TSEA proposals will be solicited in a state employee newspaper and on the Internet from now until Oct. 15. The organization will package them for presentation to the governor and legislators by year’s end.
He said “dozens and dozens” of suggestions have already been received, ranging from energy audits of all work locations to giving some duties now assigned to nurses at state facilities to LPNs, who have less training and lower salaries.
Haslam has prompted his plans to conduct a “top-to-bottom review” of every department in state government with an eye toward reducing costs. The Department of Economic and Community Development, the first agency to complete the process, revised its regional planning process and terminated about 70 employees. It was a program that “helped people,” McConnell said.
This year’s state budget, at Haslam’s request, makes about $1 million available in state grants to small towns and counties that previously relied on terminated ECD staff for development planning work.
“That got our attention,” said O’Connell of the ECD firings. “We see what’s coming.”
In a statement read to media at the news conference, O’Connell questioned whether politicians for .smaller government want “fewer parole offices to monitor sex offenders released from overcrowded prisons” or “out helpless mentally ill or intellectually disabled persons living under bridges or in jail because we have gotten out of the business of providing appropriate care.”
“Just last year, outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen told us that, after years of budget cuts and state employee layoffs, we had finally cut all the fat out of state government,” O’Connell said. “Further cuts, he told us, would care into the muscle.
“…Continuing to lay off state employees means disappearing state services. We don’t think this is the vision of the citizens of this state,” he said.
Asked for comment on the TSEA’s plans, Haslam spokeswoman Yvette Martinez sent this reply:
“Tennesseans elected Bill Haslam to run state government efficiently and effectively during what he has called the “new normal” in which government is expected to do more with less. Each state department’s top to bottom review is an effort to assess agency operations to ensure the state is providing services in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Feedback from state employees is an important part of this effort.”
Here’s O’Connell’s statement read at the news conference:
The politicians running Tennessee tell us that the citizens of this state want smaller government. Are those politicians right? Do the people want fewer parole officers to monitor sex offenders released from overcrowded prisons? Do we want our helpless mentally ill or intellectually disabled persons living under bridges or in jail cells because we have gotten out of the business of providing appropriate care for the “least among us”? Do we want children to continue to live in conditions which put their lives in danger because there aren’t enough case workers to respond to obvious danger signals? Do we want fewer transportation workers patching dangerous potholes, fewer highway patrolmen keeping drunk drivers off our highways? Do we want recreational activities at our beautiful state parks to be shut down because they don’t “turn a profit”?
Just last year, outgoing Governor Phil Bredesen told us that, after years of budget cuts and state employee layoffs, we had finally cut all the fat out of state government. Further cuts, he told us, would carve into the muscle. It is that muscle, of course, that provides us with the services which are so important and even vital to us all. Continuing to lay off state employees means disappearing state services. We don’t think this is the vision of the citizens of this state.
What they do want is for government to run efficiently. They want to feel that their tax dollars are being spent wisely. They object to sending their hard-earned dollars to Nashville only to see any portion of those dollars poured down the drain.
The clear message: Cut waste, not services!
While Governor Bill Haslam and his administration are involved in a “Top-to-Bottom” study of state government tasked, in part, to help in deciding which services to cut, the Tennessee State Employees Association announces that it will undertake a three-month-long State Government Cost-Cutting Study aimed at rooting out inefficiencies and wasteful spending in state government. The theme of this study will be Full Government Service at the Lowest Possible Cost.
State employees who are “in the trenches”, those who are actually delivering the services, will be asked by TSEA to provide instances of inefficiencies, situations where a sensible correction will save taxpayer dollars, making cutting services unnecessary. Beginning July 15 and continuing through October 15, 2011, TSEA members and other state employees will be able to fill out forms appearing in the bi-monthly Co-Worker, detailing money-saving suggestions or at least money-wasting problems, sending those forms into the TSEA office by mail. They will also be able to go to our website tseaonline.org, and click on a button titled “Cut Waste Not Services” to send in responses electronically.
By the end of December of this year, we will have gathered and sorted through all the information submitted. We will organize it and present it to the Governor, to members of the Tennessee General Assembly, TSEA members and to the public through the various media.
Robert A. O’Connell
Tennessee State Employees Association