Efforts by the Haslam administration to outsource more state jobs took another step forward Tuesday, but it drew lots of protests in the halls of the legislature.
Dozens of campus workers from across the state -- members of Campus Workers United -- descended upon Capitol Hill, bringing with them a petition against the privatization of college and university buildings.
"Tennessee is not for sale. Tennessee is not for sale. Tennessee is not for sale," they chanted as they lined the hallways of Legislative Plaza.
That protest came as Haslam administration officials went before the Senate State and Local Government Committee to make their case for outsourcing jobs now held by state employees to a big corporation.
The administration's basic message was that they believe they can save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, without hurting any current state employees.
But they won't know for sure until after they've put a contract up for bids.
"Until we have a proposal in hand, we really don't have the ability to fully assess whether this is a good decision or not," the governor's outsourcing expert, Terry Cowles, told reporters after the hearing.
Under the latest proposal presented to lawmakers, the administration is looking to put out a bid for a corporation that could manage college and university buildings, as well as prisons and other state buildings.
Officials told lawmakers they believe they could save nearly $36 million a year by turning that work over to a for-profit company.
But the contract would mandate that the vendor could not fire any current employees or cut their pay or benefits.
And they said the outsourcing would be optional, meaning campuses could opt out if it doesn't make sense to them.
Still, even Republican lawmakers were skeptical.
"Efficiency is so much harder to quantify, I think, and I am not dissatisfied with the efficiency of our state employees, as I understand it," said the committee's chairman, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston.
Sen. Richard Briggs, a Knoxville Republican whose district includes University of Tennessee employees, said that "we need to search for savings, but we don't need to change for the sake of change. If the university is running an efficient cost-competitive operation, we need to keep them."
Still, the governor's chief operating officer, Greg Adams, listened to those comments and told reporters that he did not hear any skepticism.
The administration plans to hire a third party to review their estimated cost savings.
As the law now stands, a final contract could be a done deal by this time next year.
Democrats have introduced legislation to give lawmakers a say in any such contracts.
But the Republican committee put that bill on hold until later in the session.