Haslam Proposes Overhaul to Civil Service Rules, Tax Cut on Food, Estates

Gov. Bill Haslam unveils his legislative agenda flanked by Republican lawmakers.

Gov. Bill Haslam unveils his legislative agenda flanked by Republican lawmakers.

Governor Bill Haslam wants to completely revamp civil service rules for state workers. As part of his legislative package unveiled Tuesday, Haslam proposed loosening hiring restrictions and allowing performance pay.

When asking his 22 departments what would help state government run more efficiently, Haslam says they all reported back that work rules need to change. The state cannot recruit for open positions. Experience is almost the only factor in who gets the job, Haslam says. And when it comes to raises, either everyone gets more money, or no one does.

“As in all work places, we have some people who excel and some that don’t. We should have the ability to recognize for performance, and our bills give managers that opportunity.”

The legislation would also overhaul what’s known as “bumping.” That’s when state workers whose positions have been cut can bump less senior employees and take their jobs.

The Tennessee State Employees Association says it’s willing to work with the governor, particularly on allowing the state to go out and recruit. But TSEA executive director Robert O’Connell says there’s a good reason behind some of the rules.

“We fought long and hard to get civil service protections put into place, and the reason that we did that was because there was cronyism and political patronage, which is not the way to run a government.”

When asked how he would prevent cronyism under the new system, Haslam points to his own administration. The Republican says he changed out just 15 percent of the employees who served under the previous governor, who was a Democrat.

Tax Cuts Proposed on Food, Estates

Governor Haslam is asking Tennessee’s legislature to pull back on two kinds of taxes. With state revenues now coming in above estimates, he says now is the time to trim tax rates and keep the state’s government lean. That’s a reversal from earlier statements, when he said the budget situation was too tough to allow for cuts.

Haslam wants to trim the state tax on food by half a percent over three years. The first step would be to drop it down from the current rate of 5.5 percent to 5.3.

The governor is also proposing a change to how big an inheritance has to be before Tennessee’s estate tax kicks in. He contends raising that mark to the same level as other states could work to keep more retirees here.

“There’s a whole lot of people who used to live in Tennessee who don’t anymore because it’s cheaper to die in Florida. And I can tell you a whole lot of people who spend less than half of their year in Tennessee to avoid that estate tax specifically.”

Haslam wants to start by raising the bar from $1 million to $1.25 million . Ultimately, he’d like $5 million of an inheritance to be exempt from the tax.

Nina Cardona contributed to this story.

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