Legislators extend their pay cuts — for now

Well, true to the word of some of our friends who post here, the Legislature extended the 5 percent pay cut on lawmakers, administrators and judges for two more years when the House accepted Senate amendments to HB 575.

I’m glad they did the right thing — for now anyway. The issue may not be settled, with legislators raising ominous questions about “constitutional” problems and some urging Gov. Neil Abercrombie to veto the bill so they can “fix” it.

A veto that resulted in any portion of the frozen pay being restored would blow to smithereens Abercrombie’s credibility with the public on his pitch for shared sacrifice.

Equally problematic would be a legal ruling restoring the pay raises issued by state judges who would benefit, based on pleadings by legislators and administrators who would benefit.

The vast majority of the public isn’t going to buy any arguments about legal complications. They know right from wrong and they see it as simply wrong for top public officials to take pay raises for themselves in a crushing recession while demanding painful sacrifices from everybody else — pay cuts for unionized public workers and tax increases for citizens.

Any complications are the Legislature’s own fault. If there are problems with HB 575, it’s only because legislators waited too long to resolve them and ran out of time.

The awkward entanglements between the pay of legislators and that of administrators and judges were introduced by design when lawmakers crafted the 2006 constitutional amendment creating the state salary commission.

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26 Comments on “Legislators extend their pay cuts — for now”

  1. zzzzzing Says:

    I do wish you’d at least acknowledge Sen. Gabbard’s renouncing his pay raise from the very beginning. All it would take is a “with the exception of Sen. Gabbard” and I’d be quite happy. C’mon, Dave, make my day. 🙂

    Re: Abercrombie’s ‘credibility’ – he’s blown that already, imho. Raiding the Hurricane Fund to help the Unions after a few hours into office took care of that.

  2. David Shapiro Says:

    zzzzzing, you’re right about Gabbard and I’ve acknowledged it several times.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I was expecting the morning paper would have a second coming headline:

    “Heroic Overworked,Underpaid Legislators Share Sacrifice”

  4. Cute Lunatic Says:

    Yeah, I agree. Ambercrombie has blown his credibility a long time ago. I am so ashamed I voted for him.

  5. Michael Says:

    I did not expect a miracle to happen overnight.
    It is not an easy task to balance what is already knee deep in quicksand. We need to freeze things, tighten our belts and when the economy is better try to get back what we lost. We each need to save on our own. My parents could but I did not.

    Someone said that, If change is to happen it should start with each individual. Brings to mind the story of the Little Red Hen. Everyone wants to eat the bread but no one wants to weed, plant and reap but only eat.

    People with ethics like Senator Gabbard are needed to keep those without ethics in line. Too bad we cannot moderate the actions of our Legislature or Government Leaders. We can compliment or complain but never do we say, Thank You.

  6. Kolea Says:

    Dave,

    You have a reflexive cynicism about legislators which results in a kind of “collective guilt” you apply to all of them if a few do things you dislike. How useful is that?

    Two weeks ago, you were accusing Les Ihara (and Common Cause) of being tools of the Democratic Machine as they worked to pass Instant Runoff Voting.

    In this column, you denounce Della Au Belatti for raising “constitutional” objections as an excuse for avoiding the extension of the pay cuts.

    In both cases, you avoided naming the actual legislators you were accusing– perhaps because naming these specific legislators would show how absurd your accusations are. Ihara in the Senate and Belatti in the House, are the two legislators (of EITHER party) most engaged in promoting “good government” “process-oriented” reforms.

    When you go so far as to accuse even the most reform-minded legislators of being cynically self-interested, maybe it is time to re-calibrate your own cynicism?

    And why should Abercrombie be held accountable if the pay raise freeze were to expire? There is no way he could veto the raises if the Lege failed to pass an extension. By your wording, you avoid distinguishing whether it would be an uniformed public who would blame Abercrombie or if you are actively promoting misinformation in the HOPE the public would blame Neil? You have it in your power to help people understand why that blame would be misplaced.

    You are still Old School enough to understand the difference between political analysis and political kvetching. It’s your blog, so if you want to embrace the journalistic standards of a contemporary radio talk show host, that’s your right. But you are lowering your standards and undermining civic discourse when you make that choice.

  7. zzzzzing Says:

    @David: Sorry, I must have missed it. ❤ for making me happy. 😀

  8. charles Says:

    Boy, talk about damning with faint praise. That’s like saying, “Columnist Apologizes for Misleading Statements. . . For Now.”

    And it wasn’t the legislators initially raising the constitutional questions, it was the judiciary.

    But, as I’ve said in the past, it’s your blog so knock yourself out.

  9. David Shapiro Says:

    Kolea, that we’re even talking about legislative pay raises in a year when we’re chasing a $1.3 billion deficit, cutting the pay of unionized public workers and significantly raising taxes is good reason for skepticism. They should have dealt with it early, cleanly, decisively and without drama. I do think highly of Les, Della and some others, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with all of their positions.

  10. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    The problem I have with Belatti “sounding the alarm” on this one is by arguing against the bill, she leaves no avenue for maintaining the pay cut. At least with the bill passed, the Leg can either come back next session to fix it, or the Gov. can veto so they can come back on July 12 and address the problems sooner.

    She can have her opinion, and that’s fine. But as usual, any kind of indignation on her part needs to be tempered by the question, “What’s your solution?”

  11. Guido Sarducci Says:

    “When you go so far as to accuse even the most reform-minded legislators of being cynically self-interested, maybe it is time to re-calibrate your own cynicism?”

    But Hawaii Legislators DEFINE cynicism.

  12. Kolea Says:

    Dave,

    I did not monitor this issue at the Lege this year, so I may be getting this wrong. BUT, my sense is that most of the talk “about legislative pay raises” was how to extend the freeze, so I am not sure why such talk was not appropriate “in a year when we’re chasing a $1.3 billion deficit, cutting the pay of unionized public workers and significantly raising taxes.” Maybe you can help me understand that?

    Let me be clear. I think it would have been stupid to not extend the freeze. I disagree with those who claim legislators are overpaid. But I agree legislators have to set an example if they are going to call for “shared sacrifice.”

    Earl, I am not saying Della is above criticism. What I dispute is Dave’s insinuation that the constitutional objections were just a cover by self-interested legislators to kill the salary freeze. I know Dave “thinks highly” of Les and Della, which is why I am pressing him on the unfairness of casting aspersions on their motivations in order to encourage generalized contempt for legislators as a whole.

    Dave remains attached to his idealism. That is admirable. I wish him well with that. We all struggle against cynicism. I don’t want members of the public to have an unrealistic optimism towards the legislators. But generalized contempt for “politicians” as a class of human beings is already widespread, so what’s the point in promoting it when the “evidence” has to be twisted to fuel that view? Where’s the “idealism” in that?

  13. Richard Gozinya Says:

    “But generalized contempt for “politicians” as a class of human beings is already widespread…”

    And well deserved,I might add.

    That’s the cool thing with generalizations – they exist because they are generally true.Not every time. Not every case. But generally.

  14. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Richard, I think the opposite of your statement is true. It’s not most of the politicians that make a generalization, but it’s some bad apples and the nature of the process that cast bad images on the whole. You can think what you want, but I’m with kolea that it’s the uninformed and the artifically disenfrachised who perpeturate the contempt.

  15. Teddy Freddy Says:

    “when lawmakers crafted the 2006 constitutional amendment creating the state salary commission.” Dave, I think it is important to point out that the salary commission has been around for decades. It was amended in 2006 but not created in 2006. Also the mechanism whereby the salary recommendations are approved unless dissapproved by the legislature is also a decades long and common practise in similar situations in other states. If legislators had to actually cast a positive vote to raise their own salaries, there would probably never be a pay raise at all as most are too scared of the public pushback (whether they deserve a raise or not).

  16. David Shapiro Says:

    Teddy, you’re right that we’ve had salary commissions for decades. My point was about entangling legislators pay with administrators and judges, which appears to be part of the current problem. The 2006 amendment combined what had been separate salary commissions for the Legislature, administration and Judiciary into one and restricted the Legislature to accepting or rejecting the commissions recommendations in their entirety — i.e., legislators couldn’t turn down raises for themselves but let those for administrators and/or judges go through.

  17. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Teddy’s right. I believe what the 2006 amendment did was combine the Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive into one group subject to the salary commission. However, the disapproval mechanism already existed long before.

  18. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Oops, that’s what I get for delaying pressing the “Post Comment” button!

  19. Kolea Says:

    Dave,

    I’m not sure why you think tying legislative raises to those of the executive and judiciary is inherently a bad thing. Teddy makes the good point that legislators are “too scared of public pushback” to ever vote themselves a raise.

    Is that fear reasonable in your eyes? Is the public’s hostility to a legislative pay raise–outside the current economic circumstances– reasonable?

    If judges and the executive employees deserve a raise, why is unreasonable to peg legislator’s salary increases to those of the others?

    Or is populist hostility to legislative pay always a good thing?

    Some folks obviously think politicians should barely get paid. Partly in order to force them to maintain a job in “the real world.” This idea does not withstand much scrutiny, in my opinion. It just means politicians need to be wealthy, have a cooperative employer willing to subsidize their political career, or be a lawyer. Few folks understand that being a lawyer is one of hte few careers where a professional can take 5 months off every year without damage to their career.

    I do not believe all elected officials should serve full-time, with no outside employment– I think the mix is probably helpful. Legislators who work outside– or who depend upon the goodwill of an employer to serve in the Lege– risk conflicts of interest, so the idea does have its downside.

  20. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I don’t think Hawaii legislators should be highest paid part timers in the country. That’s for starters.

  21. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Of the 76 current legislators, over 50 of them have no other jobs or any other income other than from family members. The only reason that they are able to maintain a reasonable middle-class lifestyle is that they live with their parents/in-laws or their spouses work full-time. I don’t know of any single legislators not still living with their parents who pay market rent & utilities without roommates to share the costs.

    The failure of the Legislature to pass revenue-enhancing legislation such as the soda & liquor taxes, legalized gambling, or taxing untaxed pensions are three reasons we are facing today’s economic instability.

    To blame the legislative pay increases as a major cause of the state budget deficit is similar to the same arguments used by the teapartynutburgers who blamed Planned Parenthood for federal budget woes,

    Want to make a serious difference in what we pay in taxes and spend on services? Eliminate public education including the University of Hawai`i, environmental protection, and, for sure, any services for old people, sick people, and others who drain the tax coffers.

    The best way to do this would be to initiate a mandatory death penalty for everyone who reaches age 40 plus all younger folks who are physically or intellectually competent.

    CHANGE OF SUBJECT:

    I did an analysis of all 368 bills that finished the cross-over process and were expected to go into conference. Of that figure, 336 bills were discussed at least one time during the conference period.

    There were four reasons why 32 bills were not heard: House conferees not named (3); Senate conferees not named (5); no conferees named (2); no initial meeting held after conferees named (22). NOTE: Some in the last category were being discussed in another version of the same topic.

    Nearly 45 bills were agreed to before last Friday & sent to the Governor while another 35 have been signed into law. (no vetoes yet) Another 23 died before last Friday leaving approximately 265 still alive on the last day of negotiations. By last Friday evening, another 86 had “died.”

    To blame over 40 people who were not in office until 2006 or later for what happened is unfair.

    We all must make the hard decisions about services and taxes and boosting the economy by investing in technologies which will be around long after most of here shuff off this mortal coil.

  22. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Whoops! ….physically or mentally INcompetent.

  23. Teddy Freddy Says:

    Has anyone actually checked with Gabbard to see if he is maintaining his pledge? Just cause he said he was going to do it two years ago does not mean he will do it forever.

  24. Della Au Belatti Says:

    Dave, as always, I appreciate your blog; and while I know there are things we disagree on, I too think highly of you and the forum you provide to both elevate and inform the discussion.

    First, just to respond a little to the characterization made by “Earl of Sandwich”: the Majority Leader described a yes vote on HB575 as a symbolic vote that provides opportunity and options. More than just “sounding the alarm” on this bill, my no vote on HB575 was also symbolic and a way to highlight the choices that are before us as legislators. As I stated on the floor, I have no objection to a 5% reduction, but how we get there is important. We as legislators need to do a better job of crafting the laws in the first place and then not abuse legislative process so that we are not placed in this awkward situation of passing such a flawed and, in my view, unconstitutional bill.

    Second, and more importantly to elevate the conversation and also to respond to “Earl of Sandwich’s” question, the story of salaries does not simply end with the House’s vote on HB575 and the Governor’s potential veto. The rest of the story is also about the TIMING of that veto, whether or not the Legislature goes in to special session, and the whole host of unfinished business that was left undone due to botched conference negotiations.

    As noted, the Governor can veto by the 45-day period specified in the State Constitution and the Legislature can come in on July 12th to address those vetoes. He can also veto before July 12th, as nothing in the Constitution prohibits an earlier veto message, and the Constitution permits the Governor to convene a special session of the Legislature or 2/3 of each chamber can by written request call for the convening of special session anytime after adjournment.

    Based on this, as far as I can tell, here are the different scenarios:

    VETO BEFORE JUNE 29, 2011: If the Governor vetoes HB575 some time, let’s say at least 10 days before June 30, 2011, then presumably the 5% pay cut of 2009 will not be extended and the pay freeze that was set forth will be lifted on July 1, 2011, resulting in pay raises for all executive, judicial and legislative officers. This window of time will then allow the Legislature, if it truly has the political will and both House & Senate leaders really want to extend the 2009 pay freeze & the 5% reduction, enough time to go into session and fix HB575.

    VETO AFTER JULY 1, 2011: If the Governor vetoes HB575 after July 1, 2011, the 2009 pay freeze & 5% reduction will have been lifted and all executive, judicial and legislative officers will effectively get pay raises. The Legislature can still go in and then impose 5% reductions. Under this scenario, we, the Legislature can claim it wasn’t our fault that all salaried officers essentially got a pay increase given the veto schedule set forth in the Constitution and the date of effect and repeal of the 2009 pay reduction, but even in light of that pay increase, the Legislature still cut and reduced salaries of all public officers in the spirit of shared sacrifice.

    NO VETO: If the Governor punts, then those constitutional questions I raised are still present. Presumably, the Legislature can then fix the more serious constitutional flaws with HB575 (especially the one that would give legislators nearly a $10,000 pay increase in 2014 while keeping judges and executive officers at their 2009 step freeze), but what about the other serious concerns raised by the Judiciary that effectively demonstrate that judges are woefully underpaid? Also, a legislative fix could still result in some type of pay raise between 2012 and 2014 that would undercut and complicate the initial story that legislators extended their 5% pay cuts.

    So what’s my solution, my proposal? There’s already been talk about a possible special session because of possible downward projections by the Council of Revenues (although I’m not sure about this given UHERO’s recent report that says Japanese tourism downturn is not going to affect Hawaii’s slow recovery) and because so many bills (upon which there was agreement) did not move due to missed deadlines and botched conference negotiations. The Governor can veto before June 29th, and whether called in by the Governor or the Legislature ourselves, let’s convene a special session to deal with any veto overrides (if there are any), deal with unfinished bills for which there is essentially agreement, and let’s have an honest discussion and clean fix for the matter of public officers’ salaries until the salary commission is set to convene and make its next set of recommendations.

    (One postscript and a comment lest any commenter wants to be snarky. (1) As a matter of disclosure, the law firm I work for does have claims against the State in the claims settlement bill that the Legislature failed to pass out. In public statements about a possible special session, references to this claims bill have been made as a reason to return for a special session. I disclosed this matter to the Democratic caucus upon discussions regarding the request by the Governor for both House and Senate to reconsider bills that had failed to make it out of Conference Committee. I believe other colleagues may have firms that also have claims, but I’ll leave it for them to make those disclosures.

    (2) Dave, the failure of the claims settlement bill to move out could be the subject of another discussion that focuses on the conduct of the Legislature to deal (or not deal) with bills that should as a matter of policy not be subject to the gamesmanship that is typically associated with conduct of conference negotiations….but I’ll leave that blog topic for you if you are so inspired and want to delve into the matter.)

  25. Michael Says:

    Thank You!

  26. zzzzzing Says:

    @Teddy Freddy – why don’t you call him & ask him?


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