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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 4, 2006

Dispute delays paychecks for 224 session workers

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

The state House of Representatives could not pay 224 session workers yesterday after an internal struggle in the Senate and bad timing delayed the approval of the budget for the Legislature.

The budget, which covers the expenses for the 60-day session, was held up in the Senate over a festering dispute between Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim and the Senate clerk's office over Kim's access to Senate finances. The Senate amended the budget and passed it on Thursday and sent it back to the House for final approval, which came yesterday afternoon.

But by the time the budget reached Gov. Linda Lingle's desk for her signature just after 1 p.m., the governor had left for the day to attend engagements on Maui.

State lawmakers and their permanent, year-round staff were paid yesterday because their salaries are not dependent on the session budget. The Senate had enough money in reserve to cover all of its session workers, but the House was left to explain to its disappointed workers that they would not be paid until at least Monday.

"It's certainly upsetting," said a constituent liaison to a House lawmaker. "We have to pay our bills. We have to pay the rent.

"Some of us, we live paycheck to paycheck."

Several session workers interviewed last night asked that their names not be used because they did not want their comments to reflect on lawmakers. One aide said he lent a co-worker waiting for her paycheck the money to cover a parking ticket that was due yesterday since she did not want to float a personal check. Another talked about scaling back plans to attend the Punahou carnival and a Super Bowl party this weekend because she might be pressed for cash.

"It's unfair," one House aide said.

"I guess I'd like to know why this happened."

Patricia Mau-Shimizu, the chief clerk of the House, said session workers are warned when they are hired that their paychecks might be delayed if the session budget has not been approved. A separate memo went out when it appeared that the budget would be delayed.

Mau-Shimizu said it has been a few years since the House last missed payroll for session workers. During one session about 15 years ago, she said, session workers did not get paid until March.

"They are warned in advance," she said.

The House approved the budget Monday and moved it over to the Senate, where Kim had been asking the clerk's office for financial details of internal Senate operations for weeks. Kim, who has been involved in a leadership struggle since last year with Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa), said she wanted details of Senate expenses before she supported a proposed budget increase.

Rather than approve the budget immediately, the Senate reviewed it for a few days and decided to trim $340,000 in expenses. The final budget contains $6.8 million in expenses for the Senate and $10.4 million in expenses for the House, along with money for the state auditor, the ombudsman, the Legislative Reference Bureau, and information systems and broadcast equipment.

The financial documents Kim obtained, including the individual salaries of Senate staffers, were shared with other senators and led to a lengthy fight with Repub-licans on the Senate floor Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), accused Democratic leaders of discrimination for providing more money for Democratic staff than Republican staff.

Last night, Hemmings blamed Kim for the delay.

"Those state Capitol workers that did not get paid and the rest of the public need to know that this happened solely because the Democrats, specifically Senator Donna Mercado Kim, delayed the Legislature's budget process to play petty politics," Hemmings said in a statement.

Kim, D-14th (Halawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), said she wanted to be sure any spending increases were justified and believes that the clerk's office should have provided the information she asked for much sooner.

"My responsibility is to make sure we pass a legitimate budget," Kim said.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.