Sunday, June 1, 2008

State workers must wait to receive buyout plan

Packets set to go out week of June 16
By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II • Associated Press • May 31, 2008

More than 11,700 state employees will have to wait almost two weeks longer to receive a buyout plan expected to save nearly $64 million amid a shortfall in the upcoming budget year, Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz said Friday.

He told reporters the informational packets are now targeted go out the week of June 16 instead of June 6.

"This is a very complex process," Goetz said. "So in order to make sure that we're going to do it right, it requires significant legal review and quality control. To do that, we've had to delay slightly when the information will go out to employees."

Gov. Phil Bredesen is cutting $468 million from the spending plan that begins July 1 because revenue collections are projected to fall far below expectations.

The governor is hoping 2,000 employees will voluntarily accept the plan, which administration officials estimate will save the state
$64 million annually.

Goetz said he's confident the state will reach its goal.

"We have modeled it as much as we know how," he said. "We have brought in experts in legal and human resources areas to work with us, to give us a sense of if we're going to hit the mark, and they all do."

The packets include program details, application forms and information on benefits.

Goal: Cut work force 5%

With cash incentives, 18 months of health insurance benefits and two years of tuition to a state community college or university, the plans will be worth between $23,000 and $47,000, depending on a worker's length of employment, according to administration officials.

They have said workers near retirement and those with less than 10 years of service are the ones most likely to take the buyout. The goal is to reduce the state work force by 5 percent, but layoffs will begin in January if enough workers don't accept the package.

The deadline to respond is Aug. 5. Starting Aug. 11, workers will be notified whether they've been accepted into the plan.

Goetz said a Web site, call center and special e-mail address will be set up to provide information and field questions from workers. Administration officials will also host a series of town hall meetings across the state.

"We will be doing all we can to communicate and explain what will be a fairly complex set of documents," Goetz said.

The cuts to the state work force represent less than half of the growth in state employees since Bredesen took office in 2003.

The state employed 41,990 full-time workers in 2003. Since then that number has grown by 5,089 workers, or about 12 percent.

For the most part, the voluntary buyouts have drawn the support of the Tennessee State Employees Association and lawmakers.

"The governor is doing everything possible to make government smaller in way that makes sense both for the employee and for the taxpayer," said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.

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