Hawaii governor urges pay cuts for herself, lawmakers, judges
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
The Lingle administration, arguing that everyone should share in the pain of a poor economy, proposed pay cuts yesterday for the governor, lieutenant governor, state department directors, judges and state lawmakers comparable to wage reductions negotiated with state workers.
Linda Smith, Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser, told the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee the pay cuts should be in addition to a pay freeze through 2011 that would save the state $4.1 million.
"We believe that it's important, again, as a labor savings effort to consider, as well as a fairness effort on the part of senior officials within the state government, that we behave and be willing to take the same sacrifices that those who are covered by collective bargaining take," Smith said.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Halawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers are open to pay cuts that go beyond the pay freeze. But she said lawmakers also want to explore whether to adopt reductions in vacation and sick leave that state workers may also be facing.
"We're going to have something in addition to the freeze," Kim said after the hearing. "But we're going to have to sit down and go through it.
"If they're going to be required to take cuts, then we need to take cuts, as well."
The Lingle administration has said it wants to save $278 million in labor costs over the next two years as part of contract negotiations with public-worker unions. The governor has said the savings would come from a combination of wage and benefit reductions and, if the savings are not realized, the administration would resort to furloughs and other spending restrictions.
Smith said senior executive, judicial and legislative branch leaders — covering 208 positions — should have their pay rolled back comparably to what will be negotiated for top-level unionized executives. If the state or labor unions opt for furloughs instead, Smith said, leaders from the three branches of government should also take furloughs.
ALREADY GOT RAISES
Voters in 2006 approved a salary commission to recommend government pay raises, which automatically take effect unless blocked by the Legislature.
In December, Lingle challenged lawmakers to give up their 36 percent pay raise that went into effect in January and to enact the pay freeze for executive, judicial and legislative branch leaders through 2011. But the governor, after realizing that executive and judicial branch leaders had already received their large pay raises, quickly dropped the issue and called it "really quite small in the scheme of things."
Newspaper opinion columnists, talk radio commentators and elements of the blogosphere have kept the issue smoldering, however, describing the pay raises for lawmakers as an outrage given the significant state spending cuts needed to balance the state budget. Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, has said that rank-and-file workers will not react kindly to pay cuts when executive branch officials and lawmakers just received pay raises.
State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (Lower Pearlridge, 'Aiea, Halawa), told senators that the administration's proposal is "an opportunity for all of us, the Senate and the House, to put ourselves in the same position as all the rest of the public employees. And I think we should take that opportunity to show that we're willing to do that."
State Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), said the idea of pay cuts for state leaders should not only be seen as an issue of fairness to rank-and-file state workers, but to all taxpayers.
"It has symbolic value, that in fact we recognize that they are the ones bearing all of the costs and many of them are unemployed and many more will be unemployed, so it's not even a question of rollback for them," Slom said. "It should be a fairness issue not just in the confines of the square building and the government buildings, but in the economy as a whole."
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.