State vehicle outsourcing costs going over budget

A move by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to turn the state’s vehicle operations over to private companies is costing taxpayers millions of dollars more than state legislators were told, according to WTVF-TV.

“When we look at something like this and it turns out that the proposed budget and the actual is not even close, that’s very concerning,” said state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.

It was part of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s promise to run state government more like a business.

While state employees once handled most maintenance of state vehicles, the Haslam administration outsourced the work to a private company. A fleet of state vehicles were once kept on standby for state workers, but that job was outsourced to Enterprise’s WeCar program. The administration also sold off hundreds of state-owned trucks and cars, choosing instead to lease them — all supposedly to save money.

But a careful analysis of state budget documents suggests the state’s motor vehicle management operations have consistently blown through the budget numbers given to state lawmakers, now costing taxpayers more than ever.

In 2011-2012, the Haslam administration proposed a motor vehicle budget of $32.5 million dollars, but they overspent by more than $10 million. The next year, they were $11 million over budget. And in 2014, they overspent by $12 million.

From an annual budget of $38 million in 2011, the state’s motor vehicle budget is now up to $46 million. All that despite a major drop in gas prices.

…State officials say the budget numbers are complicated by the fact that, when other departments want to purchase vehicles — a fire truck, for example — those expenditures flow through the exact same account. That can make it difficult for taxpayers to know what to believe.

…In 2012-2013, the motor vehicle budget given to lawmakers was $32 million. But the Haslam administration came up with an “adjusted budget” of $67 million. So when they spent $43 million, they claimed they were actually under budget.

“If I have the ability to double the amount in my budget every year from the original proposed budget to the adjusted budget, I could come in under budget every year,” Stamps said. “I believe that’s what they’ve tried to do.”

And the administration’s own numbers show major budget adjustments every single year.

…The state’s budget director, David Thurman, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that our investigation raised “a fair question” and that officials could do a better job of making sure lawmakers and the public are given the real numbers.