NASHVILLE — Fearing additional layoffs by Gov. Bill Haslam, state employees on Tuesday launched an effort to root out government waste and save money in hopes of sparing programs and jobs.
Tennessee State Employees Association officials said their move to solicit state workers’ ideas about combating wasteful spending is intended to counter Republican Haslam’s “top to bottom review” of state government, which already has resulted in the firing of some employees.
“Continuing to lay off state employees means disappearing state services,” TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said during a news conference.
“We don’t think that this is the vision of the citizens of this state. What they want is for government to run efficiently. They want to feel that their tax dollars are being spent wisely,” he said.
O’Connell said the group’s “Cut Waste, Not Services” program is soliciting money-saving ideas from employees themselves. They hope to present Haslam and lawmakers with a list of suggestions by year’s end.
He said he doesn’t think Tennesseans want “fewer parole officers to monitor sex offenders … fewer transportation workers patching dangerous potholes, fewer highway patrolmen keeping drunk drivers off our highways.”
TSEA represents 14,000 of the state’s 43,000 workers. O’Connell later said the impetus for the employee suggestion plan was Haslam’s July 1 firing of some 70 local planners in the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The move was one of the first actions arising from Haslam’s “top to bottom review.”
When asked what would stop Haslam from simply incorporating TSEA suggestions into further cuts of services and employees, O’Connell replied “a conscience.”
Alluding to the state’s tough budgetary challenges, Haslam spokesman David Smith said by e-mail that “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.”
He said the departmental reviews are “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.”
But House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, warned the state has little choice but to make further reductions given the economy and efforts to cut federal spending, a source of as much as 40 percent of state spending.
“With the federal government’s problems, we’re going to have to find ways to cut and there will be fewer state employees as a result,” McCormick said. “We just don’t have a choice.”