Twenty legislators (17 GOP) question Haslam outsourcing plans

In a letter to University of Tennessee system President Joe DiPietro, 20 state lawmakers criticize Gov. Bill Haslam’s drive to privatize higher education building services and tell him they’ve got his political back if he rejects doing it, reports the Times-Free Press.

“The goal is laudable and the Tennessee government should always search for efficiences as good stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” the 17 Republican and three Democratic lawmakers said of outsourcing in the letter.

“Nevertheless, serious concerns and questions are raised not only regarding the validity of the evaluation process but also state-wide outsourcing as a good business practice,” they added.

The letter originated with Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, whose district includes UT-Knoxville.

…In their letter, the lawmakers said “not to be ignored but also very important is the effect of privatization on career employees and their families. A final consideration is the net effect on the local and state economy of moving taxpayer dollars out of state.”

It notes that while the letter specifically references the UT system, it “would have general applicability to all state facilities.”

Another concern: It’s “difficult” to estimate maintenance services costs “when a major university has non-recurring events such as athletic events,” according to lawmakers. “With privatization, the university loses the flexibility to move the right personnel to the right place at the right time.”

…Lawmakers said they’re concerned that “no longer will employees share the same goals and loyalty of their employer, the University of Tennessee. Jobs and benefits will be at the whim of an out-of-state company which leads to an unnecessary psychological insecurity for employees and their families.”

Noting that Haslam has said each facility and institution can decide what works best for them and that they can choose to opt out, the lawmakers told DiPietro that “every member of the General Assembly has constituents that work for the state of Tennessee and will be watching your decision with a strong interest in protecting their jobs.

“We are certain you will take all of the above mentioned points into consideration when you announce your decision,” their letter continues. “We especially want you to know that many members of the General Assembly will stand by you and support your final decision.”

Briggs said by telephone the letter “isn’t meant to be a challenge or an affront to the governor. It’s just that we had some very serious reservations about the outsourcing process.”

“Again,” Briggs said, “it’s not saying that in every single instance not to do it, but leave it to those in positions of authority.”

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