Legislature advances pay freeze for top Hawaii officials, judges
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
Hawai'i lawmakers advanced a bill yesterday supported by Gov. Linda Lingle that would save the state more than $4 million over the next two fiscal cycles by deferring pay raises for state administrators, the judiciary and the Legislature.
The House bill, proposed by Rep. Henry Aquino, D-35th (Pearl City, Waipahu), would freeze the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, justices and judges of all state courts, administrative director of the state, departmental directors and deputy directors, and members of the Legislature.
The measure passed out of the House committee on Labor and Public Employment yesterday.
"We believe it's important to re-evaluate whether these particular increases should continue," said Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser.
The move comes after lawmakers were criticized for taking a nearly 36 percent salary increase on Jan. 1.
Salaries for most state representatives and senators jumped from $37,500 to $48,708. State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), and State House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, Wilhelmina Rise), had their pay increased on Jan. 1 from $45,000 to $56,208.
The salary freezes discussed yesterday would save the state $1.6 million in fiscal year 2010 and $2.5 million in fiscal year 2011.
Lingle, who earns $123,480, is scheduled to receive a $6,180 raise on July 1. Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona Jr. is scheduled to receive a $6,024 pay increase, July 1 that would increase his salary from $120,444 to $126,468.
State department directors and deputy directors, justices and judges of all state courts are also slated to receive raises varying in size from 10 percent to 14.7 percent July 1.
Ronald T.Y. Moon, chief justice of the Hawai'i Supreme Court, currently earns $164,976 and is set for a $16,500 raise July 1.
Members of the state House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled for raises again on Jan. 1, 2010.
The recommended freezes come at a time when the state estimates a $315.4 million deficit in fiscal year 2010 and a $549.8 million deficit in fiscal year 2011.
"The purpose ... is to freeze the salaries of certain members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government in recognition of the current fiscal situation and to lead by example in showing the people of Hawai'i that public officials are doing their share to conserve public resources," Marie C. Laderta, director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, said in testimony submitted to the House committee.
The judicial and executive branch salary increases would be deferred until June 30, 2011.
State workers supported the measure, saying that it was a positive step to see top public officials sharing the sacrifice during difficult economic times.
"I am very pleased to see that the legislators are seeking to balance the state's budget by making a sacrifice to limit the salaries of those who make so much more than the average public servant," said Cheryl Matthews, a state employee in the division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Caron M. Wilberts, a clerk typist in the state Department of Education, said the measure is only fair.
"Our higher-paid officials that we have elected need to set this example," Wilberts said in his testimony to the committee. "If the state workers are willing to not have a pay increase in these hard times, then our much higher-paid elected officials most certainly need to do the same thing. It's just the right and moral thing to do."
The bill was heard before a standing room-only crowd on the third floor of the Capitol yesterday morning as the House committee also considered and killed three measures that would extend the retirement age for public workers and reduce state and county contributions to the retirement fund for public workers who retire before the Medicare age.
House Speaker Say asked state workers attending the meeting yesterday to understand that the fiscal crisis is real and everyone will have to share the pain.
"I apologize if this legislation before you has you worried about your position. I think all of you have to realize that all these controversial bills are a result of the budget crisis," Say said. "The intent was not to try and lay off public employees. If we can all share in a little of the pain, we can come out ahead."
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.