An administration pledge to inform legislators in the future about any substantial state employee layoffs Tuesday defused a push to require legislative approval of any major dismissals.
Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter announced the official policy change in a memo distributed to lawmakers prior to a scheduled House State Government Committee hearing on HB1748. As approved earlier in a subcommittee, the bill would require specific legislative approval for any layoff of 50 or more state workers.
Haslam had adamantly denounced the bill as an example of legislators “taking tools out of our hands” that are needed by an executive trying to manage state government while holding down costs.
After extended discussion and Hunter’s appearance before the committee, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, announced he would drop his push for passage of the legislation.
“When someone offers you an olive branch, you don’t set it on fire,” Hill said afterward.
Hill characterized adoption of the newly-announced administration policy as a “100 percent victory,” saying the goal all along has been to keep legislators informed and provide transparency.
Last year, many lawmakers were surprised when Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration dismissed 70 Department of Labor and Workforce Development workers shortly after the legislative session was adjourned for the year. Continue reading →
Gov. Bill Haslam is readying plans to lay off about 200 state workers by week’s end after a state judge on Monday lifted her temporary injunction on the planned firings, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Ruling from the bench, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said state officials did not break any laws in their handling of the firings because they had no legal duty to help employees find new jobs within state government.
The judge also found no irreparable harm was done when the state froze hiring for weeks in the midst of a 60-day layoff period in May and June when officials took down their NeoGov online listings for available jobs.
Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, later said the administration is “generally pleased” with McClendon’s ruling lifting of the temporary restraining order she signed June 10 after the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of 15 employees filed suit.
The Human Resources Department said the filled positions in eight departments will be “effective and off the books by the end of the week.”
The state had intended to lay off some 70 state Labor and Workforce Development employees and others June 18 and 19.
Friday is the last work day for dozens of General Services workers in Chattanooga, Nashville and other parts of the state. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of all state-owned buildings.
Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate services firm taking over the oversight of state buildings on July 1, hired only 31 of 126 employees, according to one state filing. Another 10 employees found other positions within state government. Some are retiring.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman plans to fire 26 employees as part of the department’s belt tightening, reports Andy Sher. And Gov. Bill Haslam indicated Thursday the move will be duplicated in other areas of state government in his upcoming budget. Haslam said he believes “one of our responsibilities in government is we use taxpayer money as effectively as we can. And one of the things I’m constantly empahsizing, we’re about providing the service. It’s not about us as the employer, It’s about how do we provide that service in the most effective way we can.”
Haslam said it is each commissioner’s “responsibility to make sure they have the right people in place and the right number within budget constraints. I think that’s part of Commissioner Huffman’s overall plans for the department.”
Reports circulated that as many as 70 Education Department employees would lose their jobs.
“That’s not true,” Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said in an email. “It is true that we will be abolishing 43 positions, 26 of which are filled, 17 of which are vacant.”
She said that under a requirement in state law, the department “unfortunately … had to notify more than 70 people to tell them their job could be affected, even though most of them will not lose their jobs.”
A 30 percent reduction in federal funds flowing into state government would translate into the layoffs of 5,131 state government employees, according to documents released Tuesday by the state Department of Finance and Administration.
The discharged workers would range from University of Tennessee graduate research positions to clerks processing unemployment benefit checks, according to the department-by-department survey.
The estimates were produced in response to Gov. Bill Haslam’s call for statements on how each department of state government would deal with a cut in federal funding of either 15 percent or 30 percent. (Summary of documents HERE.) The move comes with Congress contemplating major reductions federal spending in the coming year.
“We don’t expect reductions to this drastic, but believe it is responsible to prepare,” said Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes in a statement distributed with the documents. “We expect reductions in federal funding will be targeted to specific programs, but this exercise helps departments prepare to make reductions.”
About 40 percent of the state’s overall $30 billion budget for the current year comes directly from the federal government and a 30 percent reduction is calculated to be a loss of $4.5 billion.
That would be partially offset by saving about $826 million in state dollars in “match money” now used to draw federal funding. Some federal programs require states to put up some of their own funds before being eligible for federal funding.
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.
‘Deeply Torn’ Vs. ‘Revenge Politics’
Sen. Rusty Crowe is “deeply torn” on teacher collective bargaining legislation, which is forcing him to “make one of the toughest decisions he has ever had to face in his (20-year) legislative career,” reports Robert Houk in a Sunday column based on appearances of two legislators before his ETSU journalism class. As for the other legislator: Meanwhile, his colleague in the House, Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, says he suffers from no mental anguish or political confusion when it comes to collective bargaining. Ford (always a plain talker) told my students last week he believes the effort by some of his GOP colleagues to end collective bargaining is “baloney” and amounts to nothing more than “revenge politics.” Ford said he refuses to support any legislation that would hurt teachers.
“I’m for helping teachers,” he said. And you don’t help teachers, Ford said, by eliminating collective bargaining. Budget Cuts State Library Services
Upcoming budget cuts will affect those interested in studying Tennessee history, according to a Cumberland University history professor writing in The Tennessean. The budget proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam recommends the cutting of seven full-time positions at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, proposed cuts to TSLA were delayed by federal stimulus funding, but that funding is no longer in place.
According to the 2011-12 budget, beginning this summer, public access to TSLA will be reduced from 60 hours to 37.5 hours. State Librarian Chuck Sherrill has indicated that TSLA, which is currently open Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p. m. will change its hours to Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. These changes in the hours of operation will not meet the budget as currently written, however, so another five hours will need to be cut beyond what Sherrill has identified.
The seven TSLA staff positions targeted for elimination, which is the other major identified cut, will almost certainly be longtime staff members. These losses are in addition to the five positions lost under the last budget. Layoff Notices Delivered at Greene Valley
About 280 of the more than 1,000 workers at Greene Valley Development Center received written notice (last week) that they may be without a job when the new state budget year begins July 1, reports the Johnson City Press. The notices are part of Gov. Bill Haslam and the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ proposal to reduce Greene Valley’s work force by 600 positions, including 103 unfilled positions and another 211 workers whose jobs will be eliminated if the budget is passed without amendment.
The governor’s budget proposal also includes the elimination of 248 jobs at the Clover Bottom Developmental Center in West Tennessee that is in the process of closing, leaving Greene Valley as the state’s last remaining residential development center for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Summers Vs. Beavers
The Tennessean has a guest column by former Attorney General Paul Summers supporting the current system of selecting the attorney general by Supreme Court appointment and another by Sen. Mae Beavers, sponsor of bills to change the status quo. The newspaper also sides with Summers.
‘God in the Classroom?’
Under a headline declaring ‘Bill Would Let God in the Classroom,’ The Tennessean has a rundown on legislation that proponents say is a means of encouraging “critical thinking” in science classes and which opponents say is a backdoor means of promoting the teaching of intelligent design and such.