Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is pushing back against critics who accuse him of putting Tennessee government up for sale.
Still, the governor refused to take the idea of outsourcing state college and university buildings completely off the table.
While university employees say the documents uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show privatization is on a fast track and that their jobs are now in danger, the governor insisted he still hasn't made up his mind.
"We're doing our homework just like we should," Haslam told reporters. "You all think we've come to some conclusion. We have not."
The governor pushed back against criticism from campus groups who say he's is determined to sell out the state to big business, despite data gathered by the administration's own outsourcing consultant, Mike Ledyard.
That data showed those higher-ed employees actually spend less than industry averages to maintain their buildings.
Recounting an interview with Ledyard, NewsChannel 5 Investigates told the Haslam, "He said he ran the numbers hoping it would prove the case and it didn't."
"That's not what he told you," the governor insisted, demanding: "What did he tell you?"
"He said he was hoping..."
Haslam interrupted, "I read the whole transcript. What did he tell you?"
In fact, the transcript shows that Ledyard said, "I hoped that the numbers would reflect a business case."
"For outsourcing?" we asked.
"For outsourcing," the consultant acknowledged.
"And it didn't?"
"No, it didn't."
In fact, as we reported, Ledyard then said that he decided those numbers really weren't a fair comparison because industry typically spends more to properly maintain its facilities.
"We don't start with any predisposition toward privatizing things," Haslam insisted.
Two years ago, Haslam was convinced by officials with the Chicago-based corporation Jones Lang Lasalle to outsource the management of state office buildings -- a move that he claims is saving millions.
And as the state considers privatizing even more buildings, an email we obtained from Haslam's General Services commissioner, Bob Oglesby, says that he begins with the "premise" that "the state ideally wants to have the private sector provide all of these services."
"Does that not suggest a bias?" we asked the governor.
"First of all," he answered, "that's his email -- not mine, ok, number one. Number two, I think what he is saying we are not necessarily in the real estate business. That's not what we are here to do."
The ultimate question, the governor said, is whether outsourcing makes sense for taxpayers.
He said that, for him, the jury is still out.
"Everybody thinks we've made a decision, we are going to make a decision in the next few weeks. We're not. We're months away from making a decision, OK, about whether even to proceed, not whether to do it, whether to proceed. We're doing our homework to make sure that we have that real comparison."
Critics have argued that the documents that we've obtained actually shows that, instead of spending less, Tennessee needs to be giving higher ed more money for all the work that needs to be done -- replacing roofs, for example -- to keep those buildings in prime condition.
The governor says that's "a fair conversation."