State employee buyout accepted by 701 workers

Some 700 state employees have accepted Gov. Bill Haslam’s buyout offer and left state government with bonus payments, reports the Times-Free Press.

Administration figures show 2,068 employees — some facing layoffs — in 25 departments or agencies were offered buyouts. Of those, 829 applied for buyouts and 701, or just under 34 percent, accepted them. Most were gone as of July 31, figures show.

Workers from the Transportation Department accounted for 197 people — 28 percent of the total. Coming in at No. 2 were employees at the Human Services Department, where 126 workers took buyouts, according to figures supplied by the Human Resources Department at the Times Free Press’ request.

Labor and Workforce Development workers were third with 53 employees, closely followed by the Revenue Department, with 51.

Haslam administration officials won’t say much of anything about how much the taxpayers paid for the buyouts or the long-term effects on the budget. That wasn’t the point, they insist.

“I want to reemphasize the purpose of the buyout,” Human Resources spokeswoman Ashley Fuqua said in one email. “The buyout was designed not as a cost saving measure, but rather as a means to facilitate the effective and efficient operations of State Government. Any savings recognized by the buyout will be used towards agency’s FY17 budget targets.”

…The buyout package included four months of base salary plus $500 for each year of service, plus six months of subsidized health insurance and up to $15,600 in tuition aid at state colleges and universities. Tuition benefits expire in June 2018.

The Tennessee State Employees Association, which advocates for state workers, is “concerned about our state’s ability to continue providing quality services to our citizens over the long term,” president Bryan Merritt said in an email.

He cited figures showing that since fiscal 2010-11, the year Haslam took office, the state has eliminated 3,311 posi­tions — not including the buyout. Meanwhile, state population has increased by 200,000, Merritt said.