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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 23, 2009

Take the raises then give them back

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Opening day of the Legislature brought lots of speechifying about the state budget crisis, belt tightening and considering all options but not much mention of legislators wanting to keep their new pay raises. Perhaps Colleen Hanabusa knew that joke wouldn't go over well with a live audience.

The argument that the legislative pay raises are mandated by law and "we can't break the law!" is weak, considering the legislators make laws.

Rejecting anachronistic pay raises set forth by a salary commission before the first ill winds of the recession started to blow is not "breaking the law" like robbing a bank or driving drunk or snatching an old lady's purse. The biggest difference is it's the right thing to do.

The voters approved the salary commission, but it sure wasn't so that legislators could get raises while the rest of us are taking a hit on wages, benefits and retirement accounts. It was to protect us, not them; to protect our money, not their income; to keep those self-serving itchy fingers from setting their own pay scale and signing their own checks. Sheesh, and they still found a way to work the system.

So now they should figure a way to unwork it.

The glaring flaw in reasoning is the argument of "fairness."

Hanabusa's argument is that the governor and her Cabinet got two pay raises last year while legislators got none.

State legislators shouldn't be comparing themselves to the governor. They should behave like true leaders and compare themselves to the least of their constituents, to the people of Hawai'i who are suffering.

Think of the people who lost their jobs recently. Is it fair to them that you guys get this big raise of $12,808 a year while you decide what government services to cut?

The governor, no matter who the governor is, will always get more than members of the Legislature. The wannabe governors need to get a grip on their envy and not work out their inferiority complexes and political beefs with taxpayer dollars.

If reworking the law is too much of an intellectual and bureaucratic tangle, here's a suggestion on how legislators can obey the law while taking a stand for fairness. Take the pay raises but write a check for the full amount back to the state. That way, the raise will still count toward their pension but they won't be in the hypocritical position of sweating over budget cuts while taking home more taxpayer dollars in their own pockets.

It is a much bolder and more righteous move for the Legislature to reject their pay raise and then turn to Lingle and her Cabinet and say, "OK, your turn" rather than take the weasel way of "Well, you go first."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.