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VOL. 130 | NO. 211 | Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ramsey Springs to Haslam's Aid on Tennessee Outsourcing Talk

ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is dismissing rising concerns among fellow Republicans about Gov. Bill Haslam's efforts to privatize elements of state government as a result of complaints from "squeaky wheels" in their districts.

Haslam was asked several times about his outsourcing plans during a Senate GOP retreat on Tuesday, with senators noting that the idea has run into opposition of state workers on college campuses and in state parks.

Ramsey dismissed those concerns at the meeting.

"Obviously we as senators are going to hear from that squeaky wheel, the 10 people who work at the golf course â?? who may be hired back," the Senate speaker said. "That's who we hear from. But 6.5 million in Tennessee say thank you for doing that.

"We're going to hear a little bit from those people in higher ed or whatever," he said. "But if we're operating more efficient, why would we not want to do that?"

Haslam has touted "facilities management outsourcing" to bond rating agencies, hired a set of high-priced consultants and set the early stages of procurement into motion. But the Republican governor insists that no final decision on privatizing the management of state buildings or parks has been made.

"The question is just: are we the most effective people to do that work?" Haslam told the lawmakers at the retreat on Tuesday. "And I would think as conservatives that would be something that we believe in."

Several GOP senators have nevertheless voiced concerns.

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville said at the meeting that she understood the administration's position that public university systems would be allowed to opt out of the privatization push if they decide the move wouldn't be right for them. But she said wants to ensure "arms don't get twisted."

Haslam responded that the outsourcing won't be forced on universities, but said cost-cutting measures shouldn't be ignored.

"Their arms are not going to be twisted," Haslam said. "But remember: how many of you like it when tuition goes up at schools 8 percent? Nobody, right?"

Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma said she worried about the fate of workers if operations at rural state parks get farmed out to private contractors.

"Just don't let the workers fall through the cracks," she said.

Haslam argued that outsourcing doesn't mean jobs will disappear.

"If we contract out the golf courses, somebody still has to mow the greens," the governor said. "I just don't know if that somebody should be a state employee."

"Somehow the idea has gotten here that 10,000 jobs are going to go away. No way," he said. "Somebody's still got to do the work."

Haslam said outsourcing is a way to ensure the state spending can be kept under control, though he acknowledged there's no short term pressure to go through with the changes. But the governor said he was intent on avoiding any attempt to increase the state sales tax for the first time since 2002.

"The reality is, we're in a good financial position. We'll probably be fine if we don't do anything different on managing the budget while I'm in office," Haslam said. "But the state, if we don't, we're going to be right back where we were."

"I wouldn't be taking all this grief, just because I think it's a fun ide," he said. "I've got a lot better ways to spend my time. But we've got to make it work."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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