Pay raises for legislators not dead yet

Legislators are going into the final days of their session with the possibility still alive of giving themselves big pay raises as unionized public workers take 5 percent cuts and constituents are asked to sacrifice more of their income to higher taxes.

Both houses voted to extend for two more years a 5 percent pay cut legislators took in 2009 to quell public uproar over a 36 pay raise they’d accepted while other state employees were furloughed in one of the worse years of the recession.

However, a conference committee failed to resolve differences between the two versions of HB 575 and was dissolved.

Without floor action in both houses by Thurday to extend the 2009 cut and freeze, not only will the 5 percent cut be restored to legislators’ paychecks on July 1, but they’ll also receive frozen 3.5 percent raises from Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 12, 2011.

That’s a total raise of 12 percent from $46,272 to about $52,000 for lawmakers on the same day members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association start taking a 5 percent cut.

It would mean a cumulative salary increase of 43 percent for part-time legislators during two and a half years of crushing recession, when the state has been chasing billion-dollar deficits.

Ending the freeze would also restore additional 3.5 percent raises for legislators on Jan. 1, 2012, Jan. 1, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2014 while unionized state workers will likely still be subject to 5 percent cuts.

Failure to pass the extension would also end the 5 percent pay cuts and freezes imposed on state administrators and judges in 2009. The Abercrombie administration, which has preached a mantra of shared sacrifice, has been publicly silent on the matter while the Judiciary has  pressed for restoration of judges’ pay.

The six years of pay raises starting in 2009 were approved by a salary commission whose majority is appointed by the speaker of the House and president of the Senate.

Legislators have defended their big salary increases on the basis that they went 12 years without raises from 1993 to 2005. That was mostly during the Cayetano-era recession when state budgets were nearly as tight as they are now. When that recession started to ease, they received raises in 2005.

If lawmakers make a late move to extend the pay freeze, two possible scenarios have been floated.

One would be to cleanly extend the 2009 freeze until 2013, leaving salaries where they are now. The other is a sleight of hand that would move the base for the 5 percent cut to what officials were receiving on Jan. 1, 2011 instead of Jan. 1, 2009, resulting in lawmakers getting a net 7 percent raise on July 1.

Conniving to raise their own pay by any amount while demanding sacrifices from everybody else would likely enrage the public and seriously erode the moral authority of the Legislature’s budget and tax package to close the state’s $1.3 billion deficit.

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25 Comments on “Pay raises for legislators not dead yet”

  1. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    While the bill didn’t come out of conference, I still think it’s going to pass in some way. If the Senate version is in an acceptable form, the House could agree to thier version – no action needed in the Senate.

    And if it does pass, Dave, will you PLEASE give this issue a rest? At least for a little while? Heck, THEY should be given license to write columns about YOU at this point! 🙂

  2. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I hope the weasels raise their pay.

    I have cornered the Hawaii market for throat lozenges in anticipation of the screams and howls of outrage that would accompany such a move.

    I could get rich.

  3. Michael Says:

    Seems with each 5% pay raise, another worker will get laid off pay for the legislature getting their “rise”.

    union reps and legislatures playing chess using union members or workers as pawns. Pawns are sacrificed to keep the “King and Queen” alive.
    The Only ones getting richer are the legislatures and union reps.
    “Pawns” are expendable. There must be a deal that we don’t know about between unions and legislatures.
    lingle was known to deal behind closed doors with union reps.

  4. David Shapiro Says:

    Earl, I hope you’re right and would be delighted if the next thing I wrote about this was an acknowledgement that they did the right thing.

  5. Cute Lunatic Says:

    Michael is right. The deal between unions and legislators is the campaign funding. The unions have always been about unions. They don’t care about the workers they represent as long as the dues are paid.

  6. zzzzzing Says:

    FYI, Sen. Mike Gabbard has been giving back his pay raise from day one.

    If they went full-time, I might be willing to support the raise. As it stands, no way should they do it.

  7. WooWoo Says:

    Unicameral, year round.

  8. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:


    Twenty-seven bills I was closely tracking dealing with a wide range of educational, economic, renewable energy, environmental & social justiceequity issues died on Friday night – not because the Conference Committee members were getting to duel in the Rotunda but because the House and Senate leadership could not agree on raising taxes and cutting services.

    The pay raise was not even on my priority list.

    Frankly, these men & women work harder and spend longer hours on the job – which is not just 60 days a year for a Session – than most taxpayers do – and wind up being reviled and dissed for not wanting to work for minimum wages. Many of the legislators have been in office for less than five years, are under 40, and are raising small children.

    Perhaps you should spend more time downtown in person and talking to these folks than just observing via television.

  9. David Shapiro Says:

    Cap, perhaps you should spend more time away from there relieving your political Stockholm Syndrome.

  10. Cute Lunatic Says:

    You are probably right about the legislators being in office less than 5 years, are under 40, and are raising small children. Yet they should know the pay scale going in. It doesn’t give them the right to vote themselves a pay raise whenever they feel like it.

  11. charles Says:

    David, it is scheduled for final vote on Thursday. Oh, by the way, the bill affects judges, the executive branch and legislators.

  12. WooWoo Says:


    Of course it includes others. It’s called hiding amongst the civilians.


    I know many of them work very hard… How good is their product? In the real world, people get paid for results, not effort. I don’t want a hard working doctor, I want an effective one.

  13. hipoli Says:

    Dave – why are belittling those who work with legislators and the legislative process? That we do this for a living, whether its as legislative staff, executive staff, lobbyists, advocates, or regular folks who follow the legislature, are you basically dismissing us as ‘too close’ to not be angry at legislators? Too close to not see what you see as their ‘lack of performance’ such that they dont ‘deserve’ a raise? Is that your point of view on this, in a nutshell? You seriously are going to tell Cap that she has Stockholm Syndrome, and expect me not to take you on with that?

    We see the deluge of meetings, into the night. We know many legislators are working 7 days a week, literally day and night, for 6 months out of the year. We know those same legislators who are at community meetings and activities all year, at all hours. We know the insides of the stress of A & B bracket committees. We know the b.s. leadership has to go through to be ‘leaders’ — only to get diss’d for it (see Shan, poor dude.). We see legislators who have, for better or for worse, dedicated their lives, careers, families to that lofty idea of public service. And tell me, how many of them are pulling a Nestor? Not many are double employed nowadays. This IS their job. Twenty years plus given to the Hawaii State Legislature, only to make no more than a mid-level secretary in the state system would make with that many years? Crappy pay, seriously stressful demanding work, and public ridicule and abuse may as well be written into their job descriptions.

    Is it crappy timing? Hell Yes. But do they deserve the raise? Hell Yes.

    Now, apologize to Cap for that rude remark.

  14. charles Says:

    woo woo, I hate to pop your balloon but you do know that the salary commission determined the salaries for the executive branch, judges and legislators, right?

    Hence, it’s not possible to cut one group’s salary and preserve another group’s raise.

    I would hardly call that “hiding.” I would call it the law.

  15. charles Says:

    Oh, and hipoli, you’ll be waiting a long time for an apology from David.

    He is obsessed with this issue above all else as far as I can tell.

    And, woo woo? When you talk about compensation, are you talking about the multi-million dollar bonuses for Wall Street that drove the country into a recession? You know, the “real world.” Okay, they got results but, frankly, I can do without that kind of result.

    Just my opinion, mind you.

  16. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Cute Lunatic,

    I agree with you that anyone who comes into the job should know the pay scale. However, this situation is not as simple as “voting themselves a pay raise whenever they feel like it.” Most of the posters here know the issue is a lot more complicated than that, and that there actually is no mechanism to vote themselves a raise. I won’t go into the details, but people should not have the perception that this payraise issue is something the Legislature could arbitrarily give themselves.

  17. WooWoo Says:


    And who created the salary commission? And who appoints it?

    A clever job, that. Instead of making legislators stand up and vote for their own pay raises (“yes, I deserve a raise”), it becomes a case of, “oh, well the salary commission handles that, not me.”. One thing the lege is good at: avoiding responsibility.

    As far as wall st. CEOs go, I won’t necessarily disagree with you that they screwed us royal. But it was a small handful of mega-bank CEOs… And what industries are most entwined with govt? Banking and real estate come to mind as in the top 5. Banks only exist in their modern form because of govt guarantees. You can only screw up as bad as the banks did over the last few years with help.

    Another diff between CEOs and politicians-CEOs dn’t get paid to look out for me. Politicians do. And they’ve been doing a very bad job.

  18. Cute Lunatic Says:


    Ok, I confess my ignorance about the payraise issue. Thank you for correcting me. 🙂

  19. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Ease up. Those hard working legislators guys are taking a cruise day today. Hehehe.

    So what did we get for that pay? The problems have been kicked down the road. Hard but fundamental solutions were avoided for political cover while they raided funds and finagled forecasts of revenue to “balance” a deeply flawed budget.

    Shoots,if the work of the legislature was sold at the Swap Meet,it would still be sitting on the table at the end of the day like those pitifully done crafts that embarrass the creator.

    Underpaid because they work so hard? Learn this truism from the private sector: there is activity and there is accomplishment and the two are very different. These guys may be very busy and active but the quality of product bites the fat weenie.

  20. Michael Says:

    People now days think with their Education they deserve the pay they want and not what they should get. I would never pay anyone 45,000 dollars a year to a person without some experience and that person must prove their worth. Education means squat to me if there is no common sense or work ethics in such persons. Very few CEOs in my eyes deserve millions in their pay. Doctor Hung Wo Ching of Aloha Airlines was one of them. He died many years ago and so did Aloha Airlines.

    Our “canoe” is sinking cause a canoe can only hold so many people. Many people should earn their pay not because they are in unions. Legislature should be unionized and the people are the reps.

    HECO versus Fukushima Nuclear Pland workers.
    The quality of work is different.

  21. charles Says:

    Woo Woo, like it or not the voters created the salary commission. Don’t like it? Work to repeal it.

    Oh, and politicians don’t get paid to look out for you per se. They should look out for everyone. You just don’t like it when your interests aren’t served all the time.

  22. Teddy Freddy Says:

    While it has been tweaked over time, the Salary Commission has been around for a long, long time.

    SALARY; ALLOWANCES; COMMISSION ON LEGISLATIVE SALARYSection 9. The members of the legislature shall receive allowances reasonably related to expenses as provided by law, and a salary prescribed by the commission on legislative salaries pursuant to this section which shall be payable in installments and at such times as provided by law.

    There shall be a commission on legislative salary, which shall be appointed by the governor on or before November 30, 1978, and every eight years thereafter. Not later than the fortieth legislative day of the 1979 regular legislative session and every eight years thereafter, the commission shall submit to the legislature and the governor recommendations for a salary for members of the legislature, and then dissolve. The recommended salary submitted shall become effective as provided in the recommendation unless the legislature disapproves the recommendation by adoption of a concurrent resolution prior to adjournment sine die of the legislative session in which the recommendation is submitted or the governor disapproves the recommendation by a message of disapproval transmitted to the legislature prior to such adjournment. Any change in salary which becomes effective shall not apply to the legislature to which the recommendation for the change in salary was submitted. [Am Const Con 1968 and election Nov 5, 1968; ren and am Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978; am SB 2072 (1984) and election Nov 6, 1984]

  23. yobo Says:

    You guys are missing the point about the salary commission. The legislature recently changed things
    so that the commissions recommendations are automatically adopted – unless the legislature actively votes against it. That’s the chickensh*t
    part about the salary increases, so that the legislators don’t have to have an open vote on every salary commission recommendation – therefore they can avoid any responsibility. That seems to be the theme there a lot.

  24. David Shapiro Says:

    Thanks for the constitutional citation, Teddy Freddy. We’ve indeed wrestled for a long time on how to handle this.

    The Constitution was most recently amended in 2006 with an amendment that read:

    “Shall the Constitution be amended to provide for a salary commission to review and recommend salaries for justices, judges, state legislators, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the administrative director of the State, state department heads or executive officers of the executive departments, and the deputies or assistants to department heads of the executive departments, excluding the superintendent of education and the president of the University of Hawaii?”

    The Legislature put the amendment on the ballot and voters approved it 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent after little media coverage in a year in which there were higher profile constitutional amendments on judges’ retirement age and the selection panel for UH regents.

    Basically, the amendment combined separate salary commissions for the Legislature, administration and Judiciary. Instead of appointment by the governor, commission members were jointly appointed, with the Senate president and House speaker naming a majority. The panel’s recommended raises were automatically enacted unless the Legislature voted them down. The package had to be rejected in total, so legislators couldn’t turn down only their own raises without also knocking out those for administrators and judges.

    It was an ingenious system, really, that pretty much guaranteed a steady stream of good raises that legislators didn’t have to vote to accept and for which nobody could be held individually accountable. But it backfired when the recession hit and the Legislature’s 36 percent raise stood out like the proverbial sore thumb as they increased taxes on constituents and fellow public workers were furloughed. The all-or-nothing system they’d set up made it difficult to massage the issue.

  25. charles Says:

    Apparently, there might be constitutional problems with the SD2 that will pass tomorrow.

    Why didn’t the media cover the question when it was before the voters? Didn’t they think it was as important as David thinks it is?

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