NASHVILLE - Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday the state may have to lay off "north of 2,000" state employees under a budget-cutting scenario that he intends to bring to state legislators next month.
"I've got some ideas about how to reduce that and I'm going to try to reduce that," Gov. Bredesen told the Times Free Press.
"I'd like to protect the state employees in this more so than usual just because of the times and what a difficult time it would be to lose your job," he later added.
Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Jim Tucker called layoffs "the easy way out."
"Other states are doing what's right by not putting people on unemployment rolls," Mr. Tucker said. "They're keeping them employed."
He noted that about 1,500 state workers already accepted early buyout offers. Former governors Don Sundquist, Ned McWherter and Lamar Alexander also managed their way through bad times with no layoffs, he added.
Gov. Bredesen said he hopes to use money from President-elect Barack Obama's proposed federal stimulus package to avoid even worse layoffs. But when he presents his budget to the General Assembly in February, it will not take the stimulus package into account because he is not sure how much the state will see or when and if the stimulus will pass.
"I can't even imagine a federal stimulus package that is so much that we don't have to do layoffs," he warned, later noting, "for anyone hoping all this goes away, that's not going to happen."
A Democrat, Gov. Bredesen said the state will need to cut about $900 million in the 2009-2010 budget as he grapples with recession-induced shortfalls that have put most states' revenues in downward spirals.
Most departments are looking at initial cuts of up to 9 percent and "they will be very painful," Gov. Bredesen said. "They will involve layoffs and things like that."
He said a second tier of cuts would be about 6 percent and is "particularly painful, and we just got those identified if we do get some money (stimulus funds)."
He said the state may see about $350 million in Medicaid payments under the stimulus package, but "I have no idea what's going to come out of the Congress."
"The way it appears to me right now, it's as if hundred dollar bills are sifting down out of the sky and all members of Congress are rushing around gathering them up for their constituents," he said.
Because of the economic uncertainty, he said his administration is drawing up the budget without anticipation of federal money.
The layoff situation could be worse if he is not able to make the changes he wants to civil service statutes regarding transfers of employees and furloughs, he said. Tennessee State Employees Association officials have protested the proposed changes.
"Don't let our governor take drastic steps and change laws on a whim just so he does not have to be hampered by the democratic process," TSEA officials said in a news release issued Monday.
Gov. Bredesen said his message to the TSEA officials is, "first of all you need to unplug your Xerox machine until you find out actually what's going on, OK? And second of all, I think over the last six years I should have established a good reputation for trying to look out for the state employees."
While the state will save money from a recent federal ruling that allows it to check the eligibility of about 150,000 TennCare enrollees, he said, the savings will not come until later in the year and won't be factored into the budget he presents in February.