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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hanabusa TV ad boldly deceptive

By David Shapiro

One of the guilty pleasures of my job is occasionally making local public officials spit up their morning coffee.

I've got to admit that state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa turned the tables on me with the latest TV ad in her congressional campaign, in which she claims to have "cut legislative salaries."

This is a cheeky attempt to blot out a troublesome stain on her political record by stretching the truth like a wad of bubble gum.

The fact is that legislators' salaries have been going sharply up, not down, and Hanabusa has been in the middle of making it happen.

As Senate majority leader and Judiciary chair, she was on the front lines of concocting the 2006 constitutional amendment creating a salary commission that could give lawmakers pay raises they wouldn't have to vote on.

As Senate president, she and House Speaker Calvin Say appoint a majority of the salary commission that with little public input gave legislators a record series of pay raises that will total 56 percent by 2014, from $35,900 to $58,000, for a job that is officially part time. Hanabusa and Say receive an additional $7,500 annually.

Hanabusa and fellow lawmakers last year took 36 percent pay raises for themselves $12,808 more a year while demanding punishing sacrifices from everybody else to address Hawai'i's worst budget crisis since statehood.

The act of greed destroyed legislators' ability to lead us through the Great Recession, stripping any credibility from their oratory about the need for shared sacrifice.

Hanabusa was a leader in defending big pay raises for legislators while other state workers and the taxpaying public faced layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.

"I believe they (salary commission members) have done their assessment as to what is proper payment and we should abide by it," she said.

It's too bad, because she was one of the few in a position to shame her colleagues into doing right by the public interest and at least postponing their outsized raises until the economy improved.

Instead, she and other legislative leaders came up with a scheme to deflect public outrage by taking a token 5 percent pay cut after the 36 percent raise was safely in pocket. There was also consideration of deferring a 3.5 percent pay raise due July 1, but reductions were temporary and lawmakers will still hit $58,000 by 2014.

These tiny short-term cuts after the big raise was banked are apparently the basis of Hanabusa's campaign claim that she "cut legislative salaries."

If she gets away with it in the 1st Congressional District special election, you can bet other legislators will employ the same dodge in the fall.

Hanabusa and fellow lawmakers defend their big jump in pay by arguing that their jobs are full time even though they're in session only four months a year.

Yet they refuse to give up their right to hold often-lucrative outside jobs; Hanabusa, for instance, has reported six-figure income from her law practice in addition to her legislative pay.

They can't have it both ways. Either legislating is a full-time job that shouldn't allow for outside employment that can create conflicts of interest, or it's a part-time job and should pay as such.

Or maybe they can have it both ways if candidates succeed in blurring their record of lining their own pockets while calling on others to sacrifice.