NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposal to eliminate 2,011 state workers represents about 42 percent of the positions created in state government during his administration.
Full-time positions funded by general fund revenues grew by 5,020, or 11.9 percent, since fiscal year 2002-03, an analysis of state budget records shows. There are about 47,079 state government positions in this year’s budget.
Gov. Bredesen hopes the work force cutbacks will produce $64 million of the $468 million in reductions he needs to balance his proposed 2008-09 budget.
The governor, who attributed the weakening national economy for devastating state tax collections, today plans to outline specific steps to rein in spending before a joint session of the House and Senate.
“It’s pretty clear you can’t get from here to there without having some personnel reductions in state government,” Gov. Bredesen said. “What I’m proposing will be a voluntary plan.”
The governor intends to use one-time money and convince 2,011 state employees to accept voluntary buyout packages.
If enough employees don’t sign up, Gov. Bredesen warned he will lay off workers. Officials worked on incentives and other budget issues throughout the weekend.
Growth of jobs
Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz said a number of factors are behind the growth in state employment since Gov. Bredesen took office in 2003.
“When we got here, there’d been an effort by the previous administration to disguise the actual employment in the state,” Mr. Goetz said. The state often used expensive private consultants and contractors “when in fact, it just makes more sense in many cases to use more state employees,” he said.
The Bredesen administration found a “large number of overlaps where two people were in one position,” Mr. Goetz said.
“You’re looking at a number that is not an accurate reflection of people who were working for state government,” Mr. Goetz said of the 2002-03 budget, the final blueprint by GOP Gov. Don Sundquist.
The number of Georgia employees:
* July 2005 - 80,764
* July 2006 - 82,484
* July 2007 -82,100
* Jan 2008 - 82,001
Source: State of Georgia
The number of Tennessee employees:
FY 2004-05 - 44,194
FY 2005-06 - 45,795
FY 2006-07 - 45,871
FY 2007-08 - 47,079 (estimated)
FY 2008-09 - 47,186 (recommended prior to expected cuts)
* Source: Tennessee budgets
Since Gov. Bredesen took office in early 2003, administration budget figures show major growth occurred from fiscal year 2003-04 to fiscal year 2004-05 when the number of state positions rose 4 percent, or 1,717 workers, to 44,194.
From July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2008, figures from Tennessee budgets show the number of state jobs increased by 1,284 slots, or 2.8 percent, to 47,079.
By comparison Georgia officials say their number of state positions increased by 1,237, or 1.53 percent, to 82,001 during a period from July 1, 2005 to Jan. 1, 2008.
Some Tennessee departments experienced large growth in employees, according to a review of reports filed by departments and agencies with the Senate Finance Committee.
From fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2008, positions in the Department of Human Services grew from 4,469 to 5,595 — 1,126 positions, or 25 percent, departmental submissions to the committee show.
Human Services Department spokeswoman Michelle Mowery Johnson estimated about 100 employees involved in program monitoring transferred from Finance to Human Services.
Another 225 people were added to manage eligibility and benefit appeals related to TennCare, welfare and food stamps decisions. The services previously were performed under contract by the secretary of state.
The department hired about 350 workers for four family assistance service call centers where eligibility counselors field questions about Families First, food stamps, Medicaid and TennCare cases, she said.
Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Jim Tucker, whose group represents workers, said growth in areas such as the Department of Children’s Services is attributable to federal lawsuits.
The department has grown by 877 employees, or 20.4 percent, since fiscal year 2005, figures show.
“Tennessee has the 17th largest population in the country, and the citizens of this state are served by the 38th smallest work force,” Mr. Tucker said.
PORK VS. JOBS
Drew Johnson, executive director of the conservative Tennessee Center for Policy Research, said the governor’s plans show a “prioritization problem with the budget because there are so many opportunities to cut waste through (eliminating) pork projects rather than firing people.”
The group’s recently released 2008 Tennessee Pork Report found up to $260 million in wasteful spending by state and local governments.
Mr. Johnson said, “Firing people isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they’ve proven unproductive. And despite a 12 percent increase in jobs, I don’t think that children are smarter or Tennesseans are safer or TennCare recipients get any better treatment.”
When Gov. Bredesen announced and broadly sketched out the buyout proposal last week, Tennessee State Employees Association Zoyle Jones praised the governor for pursuing buyouts instead of layoffs.
But by Friday, Mr. Tucker voiced frustration over vague details and conflicting comments by officials.
Mr. Tucker said while the state has 47,079 employees on the books, 3,843 of them are vacant positions.
“When we’re sitting here with 3,843 positions, I truly think I can save the $64 million on the vacant positions,” he said.
Finance Commissioner Goetz said the state will be pulling money from vacant positions to resolve a shortfall of $314 million to $384 million in the current fiscal year ending June 30.
Gov. Bredesen has refused to use $750 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to offset employee reductions.
The issue generated friction at a meeting last week of the House Finance Committee.
“If it’s not raining right now, I don’t know what the use of having a Rainy Day Fund is,” fumed Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory. “It’s raining.”
Mr. Goetz said, “The problem is, we don’t know how long it will rain.”
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, ...