Once again, the Haslam administration is floating the idea of privatizing a state service. Recently, the Department of Environment and Conservation issued a Request for Information (RFI), on behalf of Tennessee State Parks, seeking information from private for-profit companies to help the state assess the viability of leasing Tennessee’s State Park concessions and other revenue generating facilities.
TSEA does not know exactly how many employees would be impacted if these facilities were to eventually be privatized, but today there are 1,519 filled positions in the parks system.
While an RFI is only the first step toward transferring taxpayer control of a state service over to the private sector, this administration has a history of contracting out state services.
This administration believes, and has admitted on many an occasion, that state government should be run like a business. Many taxpayers agree with this line of thinking, because it is generally accepted that the private sector knows how to run more efficiently than government. (We are unsure if anyone in the Governor’s administration has ever had a question about their cell phone bill, and had to navigate a cell phone company’s “efficient” phone systems, but we are looking into that). TSEA disagrees with this philosophy, and believes our state employees are capable of running a job just as efficiently as a business, primarily because the state does not need to concern itself with making a profit like a private company does.
Governor Haslam has said in the past that, “It is my conviction that we [State Government] exist to provide services for citizens that they can’t purchase themselves” – what he means are things like roads, libraries, parks, state troopers, etc. These are all things that add to the value of society, and would not exist if they were required to make a profit.
Parks, in and of themselves, are not typically profitable ventures – they are of great social value, but not much profitable value. Arguably if parks were required to be profitable to exist, there probably wouldn’t be very many of them.
Tennessee has more than 50 beautiful State parks, all built to improve the quality of life for our citizens, not turn a profit. With that said, Tennessee’s various park concessions have actually turned a profit every year for the last four years in a row! Currently, those concessions are earning 103% of what they cost. That means they are making money. But now this administration wants to consider letting a private company take that profit away from taxpayers?
TSEA believes there is no need to again put state employees out of work just so an outside company can come in and make a profit. Any profit being generated belongs to the taxpayers, and should be reinvested in the parks system. In addition, these state employees working at the state parks are running a highly efficient, revenue-generating operation and should be commended, not included in discussions that could ultimately lead to a mass layoff.
TSEA is continuing to monitor this RFI, and will continue to keep you up to date if and when any effort that would impact state employees occurs.