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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gabbard does 'the right thing'

By Lee Cataluna

Mike Gabbard is giving the money back.

He might be the only one who is, though if anyone else is doing something similar, taxpayers would like to know. No word of anything like that. Only Sen. Gabbard has turned down the Legislature's pay raise.

Members of the Hawai'i State Legislature got 36 percent pay raises this year as set forth by the state salary commission. That meant the salaries for the roughly four-month gig went from around $35,900 to $48,700. The timing of the raise was awful. Though it was devised in sunnier days, it landed with a heavy thud it was so loud you could even hear it above the din of the imploding economy.

Though the raises were mandated by a salary commission, there wasn't much effort or interest in giving the money back. There was even a good deal of rationalization, with lawmakers saying that it had been a really long time since the Legislature had any pay increase while the governor and her Cabinet got a nice bump in pay last year.

Sen. Robert Bunda tried to muster an effort to at least reduce the amount by 5 percent, but even that got no love from fellow lawmakers.

It was also argued that there was no legal mechanism for returning the money. So on to other things, like which state programs to cut and which taxes to raise.

Gabbard sidestepped procedure and got out his checkbook.

"Given the state's tough budget situation, as of January when the raise went into effect, I decided to return my 36 percent pay raise to the State Comptroller to be deposited into the general fund. I felt it was the right thing for me to do," he said.

Gabbard says he sends a letter each month with his check:

"I'm enclosing a check for the month of April in the amount of $748.78 attributable to the salary increase legislators received beginning January 2009.

"I'm requesting that this check be credited to the General Fund of the State of Hawaii. I understand that my statutorily provided salary and any taxes, fees, or other employment benefit calculations based on the salary increase will not be adjusted because I'm returning this amount."

The amount he is returning will still count toward his state pension.

Gabbard is certainly one of the more controversial state lawmakers, and his name is synonymous with the no-holds-barred fight against gay marriage and civil unions. The former Republican turned Democrat is a love 'em or hate 'em kind of politician.

This latest move is remarkable on its own merit. It is one thing to hem and haw about procedure; it is quite another to write a check for $748 a month.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172.