Thursday, January 15, 2009

2,000-plus could lose state jobs

Worker group says cuts not needed By Theo Emery • THE TENNESSEAN • January 15, 2009 Gov. Phil Bredesen said that more than 2,000 state workers could face layoffs because of Tennessee's budget crisis, a belt-tightening measure that the state employee's association said is not necessary. Bredesen said budget-cutting proposals submitted by each of his departments last month would trim the state's payroll by more than two thousand employees, although he did not give a specific number. "I'm going to do everything I can to minimize layoffs, more so than I usually would, because I think this is a tough time to be looking for a job," he said. Jim Tucker, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, said that layoffs are not necessary, and the administration is not looking carefully enough at the state budget to find places to save money. He said the state could instead look for savings in its contracts and programs, create four-day workweeks and shortened workdays, or require employee furloughs. "Why would the governor want to lay people off and put them in the unemployment line when there are other options?" he said. The Governor said he believes that he may be able to reduce the number of layoffs that are contained in the department budget plans that were submitted to him, but he said it will be impossible to balance the budget without some layoffs. "Those are draconian cuts — there's no way to get there without substantive layoffs," he said. The state is facing a budget shortfall of as much as a billion dollars this year because of sharply declining revenues. State tax revenues have been steadily worsening as the economy sours; last month's sales tax collections recorded a record decline. Most departments were asked to deliver proposals to cut their budgets in multiple stages: an initial cut of roughly 8 percent cut, then a 7 percent cut if no federal aid is forthcoming. Departments were also asked to create a plan to cut another 5 percent in case the state's financial situation gets still worse. "This is the worst financial crisis the state has faced since World War II," Bredesen said. The governor plans to submit his 2010 budget to the legislature on Feb. 9, but he probably will require an amendment after the extent of the federal stimulus package — which is still under discussion in Washington — is known. Bredesen plans to ask lawmakers to pass a legislative package that will loosen the state's civil service rules, which he said would give him flexibility in hiring, transferring and laying of employees. The administration originally planned to ask for passage of those bills this week during an organizational session of the legislature; instead, he will ask the General Assembly to take it up after an upcoming recess.

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