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VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017

Democrats looking for GOP help to derail outsourcing efforts

By Sam Stockard

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Legislative Democrats are calling on Republicans to join them in passing a slate of bills to combat Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing plans for everything from state parks to facilities management at universities.

“Every one of these representatives represent a community that’s affected by the governor’s outsourcing plan, and if they don’t partner with us on this slate of bills … then they are complicit in what the governor’s doing. They have, in effect, endorsed his outsourcing plan,” Sen. Lee Harris says.

The Memphis Democrat is sponsoring two of four Democratic bills designed to stop the governor’s privatization proposals.

•Senate Bill 621, which would repeal a law requiring state park marinas, campgrounds, golf courses, cabins, gift shops, restaurants and inns to generate self-sustaining revenue received approval by the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and was sent to the Calendar Committee, where it would be slated for consideration on the Senate floor.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Bolivar Democrat, is schedule be heard Tuesday by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee after moving out of its subcommittee last week.

The Haslam Administration recently renewed a request for proposals from a private vendor to develop a $20 million inn at Fall Creek Falls and operate the facility once it is complete. Workers in several areas at the park would be required to shift to employment under the new vendor, or they could take jobs in other state departments or received a severance package.

•Memphis Democratic Sen. Sara Kyle and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Ripley Democrat, have gotten backing from Republicans for Senate Bill 1110, which would prohibit outsourcing of state parks and improvements to those parks. The Senate version is headed to Finance, Ways & Means and the House version to the Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee this week.

•Senate Bill 1327 by Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville and Rep. Dwayne Thompson, a Memphis Democrat, would require the Finance and Administration commissioner to notify all legislators when making a recommendation to outsource a state agency. The House version was deferred to a summer study committee.

•Senate Bill 674, by Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville, would require state agencies to make monthly reports to the Fiscal Review Committee on any competitive contract exceeding $5 million. It is just starting to move through the committee system.

“We’ve had some major success, and we’re going to keep fighting, because, again, these issues are part of our legislative agenda, and we have been able to generate some momentum,” Harris says.

These measures have received bipartisan backing in committees. But House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams says he hasn’t received any calls from Democrats seeking his support.

Williams, a Cookeville Republican, notes outsourcing isn’t new to universities, including Tennessee Tech, which outsourced its food services operation years ago. The university took bids on cleaning services but couldn’t find enough savings to follow through with the bidding, he said.

“What we’re saying is if there’s a broad overreaching idea, what the governor’s saying, if there’s a broad overreaching idea that works, this is a way to do it,” Williams says, adding he has heard several universities aren’t going to outsource as a result of this effort.

Legislative Democrats, nevertheless, are continuing their battle in the wake of the Haslam Administration’s plan to award a statewide facilities services management contract to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a company that already handles 10 percent of the state’s office space.

The contract has no overall cost. Instead, under the proposal to be approved later this spring, state universities could opt in and receive a quote from the Department of General Services for work such as janitorial services or landscaping and then would be able negotiate a contract with the JLL.

The state’s Office of Customer Focused Government has guaranteed no employee would lose pay or benefits in the transition, though they would have to state their intent to switch from state employment to the new company.

Despite those promises, Clemmons, who has traveled the state with Harris to gauge the concerns of state employees, says he is concerned about employees, students and faculty, in part, because of the potential for a “decrease in quality of services.”

“And for everyone across the state of Tennessee, the accountability is simply not going to be there that it is in its current form. Because when these services are outsourced and then subcontracted, in some instances, it is going to pose a sincere threat to the state of Tennessee. And there has been zero transparency to any extent,” Clemmons says.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, said Senate leaders had a long discussion about the JLL development and “expressed a number of concerns.”

One was whether the state evaluation team that scored the bidding companies – JLL, Aramark and Compass Group – knew which companies they were looking at or whether it was “done in a blind manner,” McNally says. He said the administration had not answered that question yet.

McNally said the outsourcing doesn’t have to go through the Legislature’s committee process, but he noted, “I think that there’ll probably be oversight through the Legislature about the process and whoever’s selected and how they perform.”

The administration touts a facilities management savings of $12.9 million in fiscal 2016, compared to the baseline year of fiscal 2013, including a $4.2 million savings in energy and $8.7 million savings in operations using better trained staff doing the work rather than sub-contractors, reduced utility costs and preventive maintenance and better sub-contracting pricing.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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