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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 24, 2008

Legislators urged to reject 36% pay raises

By Herbert A. Sample
Associated Press

Members of the state House may be confronted with a sticky issue come January that could involve goring their own oxen in this case, their pay raises.

House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), is saying he will press fellow Democrats to refuse a 36 percent pay raise next year because of Hawai'i's tight budget predicament.

If re-elected as speaker when the Legislature returns in January, he will present the idea to his caucus, according to Say.

However, it was two weeks ago that Say called the raise necessary because the last pay hike for legislators was three years ago, and that was the first increase in 12 years.

The state Salary Commission last year approved an increase for top judicial and executive branch officers, which has already gone into effect. The panel also pegged legislative annual salaries to jump from $35,900 to $48,708. But because of constitutional constraints, implementation was delayed until January.

The state, though, is facing an $869 million budget deficit over the next three years, prompting proposed cutbacks of between 10 percent and 20 percent to libraries, schools and other services.

Gov. Linda Lingle will factor those potential reductions into her proposed budget for the next two-year fiscal cycle. That document is due in mid-December.

Say initially expressed support for the pay hike. "The raises will let (legislators) afford their rents, utilities and everything else that has gone up in price," he said two weeks ago.

But on Monday, he told a senior citizens forum in Honolulu that he would propose suspending the increase for two years. In a subsequent newspaper interview, he said, "It is unwise to consider accepting the pay raise."

The hike, Say added, "will just become a lighting rod for the entire community."

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), on Wednesday defended the raise, noting some lawmakers earn less than their office managers. The state Constitution, she added, requires legislation to reject the increase, a move that would also deny raises for all top state officers, including the governor, lieutenant governor, agency heads and judges.

"Legislators work very hard and deserve the raise," she said. "I'm not quite sure why Calvin is saying that other than maybe he was getting pressure" from the group he addressed Monday.

Russell Pang, a spokesman for Lingle, said the governor has not declared whether she will voluntarily decline her raise. As for whether legislators should refuse theirs, he said, "That's a decision they will have to make."

It is unclear whether individual legislators can deny their own pay raise.

Opinions in the Capitol differ on what to do.

"As a single dad currently with one income, the pay raise will be helpful," said Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa, 'Ewa Beach, Lower Waipahu).

Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Lanikai, Waimanalo), said the increase should be blocked if the public calls for it. But he and Hanabusa agreed that would do little to solve the budget problem.

"We definitely can't make up a $900 million shortfall," Hanabusa said.