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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Police raises may be in jeopardy

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Police officers statewide might have to go back to arbitration for new contracts after the City Council shelved a motor vehicle weight tax increase to pay for Honolulu police's wage and benefit increases.

However, if the city can find another way to come up with the $5.8 million needed to pay for the raises this year, the statewide four-year contracts will not be affected, said Ted Hong, the state's chief labor negotiator.

But it was unclear what the city would do, or how the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers would react. The police union is expected to respond to the latest developments today.

The bill would have charged owners of more than 500,000 passenger vehicles $16 to $34 extra on their annual motor vehicle registration fees starting Jan. 1, and generated $6.5 million by June 30 and $13 million the next year, according to city estimates.

Although the tax increase was linked to the agreement to accept the SHOPO contract, the council was not bound to pass it if another source of money was available. But if Honolulu is unable to pay for raises and benefits for its officers, refusing to raise the tax could be interpreted to mean the cost items in the arbitrated contract were not approved, Hong said.

In that case, all four counties will have to return to arbitration on the cost items. "If one legislative body rejects it, everybody goes back," Hong said.

Under that scenario, only the noncost contract items would move forward while the raises and benefits are arbitrated.

Police contract details released by an arbitration panel at the end of September give officers a 4 percent raise in each of the four years of the contract, which along with health-fund payments and other benefits will cost about $66.4 million over the length of the contract: an additional $5.8 million this fiscal year, $12.7 million the second year, $20.7 million the third year and $27.2 million the fourth year.

City officials who urged the council to approve the weight tax Wednesday night maintained yesterday there were no other sources of money and the only other options would be raising the gasoline tax or cutting services and laying off 350 people, which would be tantamount to shutting down departments.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the council approved the resolution to honor the raises, but the city must have other sources of money. "That shows we're in really bad shape if that (weight tax) is the only source," she said.

However, Kobayashi pointed out that the motor vehicle weight tax bill is not dead, just deferred. Council members are just hoping the administration can come up with a more creative way to pay for the contract.

That means the council could come back sometime this month and pass it if no other options are found. If the weight tax increase is not passed by the end of this year, however, the next time the council could change it would be Jan. 1, 2005.

Councilman Charles Djou said the council's decision to hold off on the tax increase does not signify an unwillingness to pay for the contract.

He said the mayor has other options: Persuading council members to pass the weight tax in a special session, raising the gas tax or cutting the budget.

Djou prefers cutting the budget, even if it means layoffs, which he believes will be far less severe than the 350 layoffs estimated by the administration.

"I don't have any opposition to cutting the budget," Djou said. "If that's what needs to get done, that's what needs to get done."

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.