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Democrats promise more pressure on Haslam outsourcing plan

Democratic lawmakers promised Monday that they would continue to scrutinize Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to outsource work on college campuses and other state-owned properties.

During a conference call with campus employees and reporters, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville and Senate Democratic leader Lee Harris of Memphis echoed previous complaints about the plan, which Clemmons called a “scheme.” The lawmakers questioned the veracity of a third-party review conducted by Nashville-based KraftCPAs that showed Haslam’s outsourcing plan could save $35 million per year.

Harris and Clemmons argued the review was skewed because of long-running connections between the firm and Haslam. The company donated to Haslam’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns for governor, and state records also show that a KraftCPAs senior manager donated to both of Haslam’s campaigns and was appointed by the governor to a state board.

Harris said hiring KraftCPAs for the review “undermines the credibility of this review and directly undermines the governor’s promise to conduct an independent review.”

Haslam defended the review in November, telling reporters that KraftCPAs was among the state’s best accounting firms. In an emailed statement Monday, the spokeswoman for the state office overseeing the outsourcing plan said only two companies applied to conduct the review and that KraftCPAs was the only CPA to apply.

“A CPA firm was required to ensure that professional attestation standards for the need would be followed, and they were,” the spokeswoman, Michelle R. Martin, said in an email. “The state has no information to indicate that this engagement was not performed in accordance with national accounting standards or question the independence by which this engagement was performed.”

The state already uses Chicago-based JLL to manage roughly 10 percent of its facilities. For more than a year Haslam’s administration has pursued a proposal to expand that outsourcing to include facilities management at college campuses, state parks and prisons.

Advocates for college workers have repeatedly blasted the plan, predicting it would lead to slashed pay, reduced benefits or cut jobs for current state employees. The Haslam administration has repeatedly denied the charge, saying tens of millions of dollars could be saved annually without losing jobs, pay or benefits.

The administration agreed to the third-party review of the proposal in February after leaders at the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents college systems questioned the state’s savings projections. In her statement, Martin said leaders from the college system had accepted the KraftCPAs report.

Haslam has said colleges and other state agencies will have the ability to opt in or out of the outsourcing in 2017. Harris said he and Clemmons plan to continue to voice their concerns with the outsourcing plan when the next legislative session kicks off in January.

“We’re doing our very best — and this is part of that — to get the word out,” Harris said during the conference call. “There are many folks on both sides of the aisle that have some concerns about what the governor has proposed.”

Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.

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Article source: http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/12/12/democrats-promise-more-pressure-haslam-outsourcing-plan/95330722/

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