Rep. Belatti on legislative pay raises

Rep. Della Au Belatti, a leading critic of HB 575 extending a 5 percent pay cut on legislators, administrators and judges, posted a comment Saturday after most people had stopped following the comment thread on our Friday post, “Legislators extend their pay cuts — for now.”

Belatti was mentioned in some of the comments in that thread, and to make sure contrary views get fair airing, I’m repeating her comment below.

Feel free to post your own comments agreeing or disagreeing with what she has to say, but please observe the courtesy of keeping it on issue rather than personal.

While I get it why many feel it necessary to comment under pseudonyms because of their jobs or other situations, I would like this blog to become a forum where people who wish to use their real names feel comfortable doing so and I give a quick hook to unduly personal attacks against those who do. Thanks for understanding.

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.)

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23 Comments on “Rep. Belatti on legislative pay raises”

  1. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Huh. Well, I do appreciate Rep. Belatti’s taking the time to explain the situation from her point of view, and I hope you’ll relay that message to her. I don’t really agree that “talk of a special session” is a wiser road to take than actually passing HB 575, but I respect her being able to propose a solution.

    Thanks also to you, Dave, for providing this discussion.

  2. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Again, I did not track this issue closely – primarily because I was heavily involved in a variety of bills which “died” on the last negotiating day.

    The only bill for which I was probably the lead private sector advocate that did pass out was HB 1405 HD1 SB1 CD1 which requires the Office of Planning to establish a state-wide system of greenways and trail. I first came to the Legislature in 1999 with that concept and finally put it on hold – albeit reluctantly – after the 2005 Session when it became apparent that very few legislators gave a flying fagaga about it.

    Mahalo to newbie Rep. Jo Jordan for submitting it.

    Re your comment about using real names: I work for a 501c non-profit and am doing a massive amount of advocacy work on issues as diverse as UH sports & their impact on tourism to homelessness to greenbelts to high tech parks to climate change & rising seas.

    I also testify on other issues but always make it clear that I am speaking as an individual and not on behalf of any organization

    Still, the snarkiness of many people’s remarks on blogs & comment sections at the end of stories in the Star-Advertiser and other more traditional “publications” makes me not want to use my real name.

    Mahalo also to Rep. Belatti for raising these issues. Now that my life is back to relative normalcy, I’ll do some studying on the legal aspects.

  3. Mike Middlesworth Says:

    I’m with you on the use of real names.

    It’s not as easy to be “snarky” when people know who you are.


  4. Kolea Says:

    I’m glad to see Rep. Belatti’s response. It elevates the discussion when people being criticized jump in with a well-reasoned response.

    In my view, the person who had been most unfair to Della published under their real name, and that was Dave. When he insinuated “constitutional” objections were just a smokescreen for self-interested legislators to get a pay raise, he did not mention Belatti by name, but since she was the House member most vocal with the constitutional argument, he does not escape responsibility because he did not specify who he was attacking.

    I respect that Dave has called attention to Belatti’s response. It helps undo some of the damage he caused with his unfair insinuation.

    As for pseudonyms. I think they can be extremely valuable for allowing frank discussion. But a responsibility comes with that anonymity. I would suggest to Mike Middlesworth that reporters rely upon anonymous sources for many of their stories, particularly when the topic is political. A reader might very well suggest that only named sources by used for articles. If someone wants to say something through a reporter, why won’t they do so under their real name? Hopefully, the reporter vets the information with other sources. Or, having found the source to have been “reliable” in the past, trusts them.

    Regulars who comment here under established aliases have earned credibility– or not– with the passage of time. The reader can decide for themselves which comments have worth and which “sources” have tended to be reliable and what our particular biases are. And Dave has the ultimate power/responsibility to delete irresponsible comments.

    I am not convinced the level of discussion is better at Civil Beat, which DOES require stricter identification of participants. I learn more from the handful of reliable sources who post here, at Political Radar, on Ian Lind’s blog, etc., than I do from comments on Civil Beat. It is the Star-Advertiser’s Disqus comments which are out of control.

  5. David Shapiro Says:


    The original pay freeze bill from 2009 faced no legal or constitutional challenges that I know of. If the Legislature wanted to cleanly extend it, all they had to do was change the expiration date. Any constitutional problems were the result of unnecessary and confusing amendments that were added. The poison-pill amendments, as the speaker called them, along with the way the bill was delayed until the end of the session, the lag in getting a conference committee going and the final conference meeting that couldn’t even draw a quorum, suggest to me that this bill was engineered to run out of time and fail.

    I in no way hold Rep. Belatti responsible for this. How could she be? She wasn’t on the conference committee or either of the standing committees that handled the bill. You were the only one who dragged her into this thread.

    To turn to the substance, it concerns me that a veto likely ends up in pay raises under most scenarios. If the bill is vetoed and legislators deadlock on a new version as they did in conference, the restoration of the 5 percent cuts from 2009 plus the unfreezing of step increases from the last two years would mean raises of 12 percent for legislators, 17 percent for administrators and 28.5 percent for judges. If they do pass a “fixed” bill after a veto but it is passed after June 30 — which is likely since the veto deadline isn’t until July 12 — the 5 percent cut would be reinstated but they’d get the step increases, resulting in net raises of 7 percent for legislators, 12 percent for administrators and 23.5 percent for judges.

    While some of the inside baseballers who post here have no problem with elected officials giving themselves special treatment, I can’t express strongly enough how objectionable the general public would find it for our top public leaders to get raises of any amount while unionized public workers are taking cuts and constituents are being hit with $600 million in tax and fee increases. And the public wouldn’t buy any mumbo-jumbo excuses about legal and technical difficulties that were deliberately introduced by the Legislature. All they’d see is the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of our leaders taking care of themselves while demanding “shared sacrifice” from everybody else. If Abercrombie does their dirty work for them and lets them have their raises, he risks his credibility in moving forward with his New Day program.

    Nobody has clearly enumerated any flaws in HB 575 that couldn’t wait until the 2012 regular session to fix.

  6. Michael Says:

    Rep. Della Au Belatti by what I read is that she is saying, there is lollygagging in our legislature and that time is being wasted and not managed well. If the legislature did this or did that, time is still being wasted. Bills unread that need to be passed or vetoed by a certain time by our Governor. Sometimes I think our legislature is just discussing next weeks menu.

    I think our legislature purposely delay their game so that time runs out. There should be a penalty for Waste of Time. Gamesmanship?

  7. Kolea Says:


    Maybe we are misreading each other. Which specific legislators did you mean when you wrote:

    “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.”

    Was I wrong in assuming you meant Della as the one making the biggest noise about the “constitutional” problems? Or the strongest advocate calling upon Abercrombie to veto the bill so it can be fixed?

    If I misread you, feel free to offer the names of other legislators whose actions more closely fit your complaint.

    You needlessly inflame things when you write– again without providing specific examples– unfair statements like this:

    “While some of the inside baseballers who post here have no problem with elected officials giving themselves special treatment….”

    Which “inside baseballers” here have written ANYTHING advocating “special treatment” for legislators? I certainly do not support a legislative pay raise in this economy. I see the salary commission approach, pegging legislative raises to those of judges and executive branch officials, as being a means to ensure legislative salaries do NOT receive special treatment. OTOH, you appear to WANT legislators to be subject to “special treatment,” a special NEGATIVE treatment, subject to extraordinary political pressures to not raise their salaries when the other salaries also rise. What you seem to want is for legislators to “stop hiding” behind the salaries needs of other state workers but to stand alone, in isolation and be forced to set their own salaries in front of the public.

    I cannot understand that view except as a sop to “populist” hostility at elected officials.

    If I have mischaracterized your view as badly as you have mischaracterized the view of the unnamed “inside baseballers,” I would appreciate a straight, on-point response.

    I often appreciate your columns as well-reasoned. But when certain of your prejudices grab ahold of you, your logic and concern for evidence goes out the window.

  8. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    For the record, I have never thought Rep. Belatti wanted to let the pay raises take effect. Which is why I thought it very unusual that Dave would point out that some were bringing up the potential constitutional problems, insinuating that they were doing so to sink HB 575 and its efforts.

    With only her (and Mark Takai) bringing it up in the news, I assumed Dave was talking about Belatti. Since Dave usually has such high praise her her, I thought even more so, he was avoiding mentioning her by name in order to shield her from criticism. Which again, would be very strange given that I’m sure Dave doesn’t think she wants the pay raise to continue, either.

    Dave, I think you have to clarify your intent with that statement, or else this whole back and forth with Kolea’s going to continue. And not to sound like I’ve turned around on my disagreement with her – it just exists on a different point.

  9. hipoli Says:

    Kolea – I think I might be at least one of those baseballer as I am supportive of their payraises, an argument I made a couple posts back when I perceived that Dave name-called Capitolist (ahem? still waiting for that apology for her, Dave)and because it sure does seem Dave just doesnt want them to have a pay raise AT ALL — but agree that the timing right now would totally suck.

    Im quite sure Sir Charles is another baseballer, but a much older, less agile, and certainly not as pretty one. 🙂

  10. Kolea Says:


    You support pay raises for legislators, but do you believe they should “give themselves special treatment” in order to get them? It is his “special treatment” charge which sticks in my craw. I have not sen you, or Charles, make such an argument.

    Dave is upset because legislative pay raises “are entangled” with those of judges and cabinet officers.

    Somehow, Dave thinks treating legislative pay increases the same as these other raises constitutes “special treatment”(?). He prefers politicians move away from judges and department heads and stand isolated in an open field so he can direct fire solely at them if they ever DARE to seek a pay hike.

    Dave’s language is rather Orwellian, but he does it in service to anti-politician populism so it is clearly justified. How dare the legislators try to avoid the trap Dave wants to set for them.

    But hey, after THIS year, I am more inclined to argue the legislators should pay US, those who have spent hours trying to get legislation passed, only to have them screw it all up with their games. A big waste of time.

  11. David Shapiro Says:

    Earl, Kolea, I have to take my girls to guitar lessons and don’t have much time to keep going round and round.

    To answer the question, I blame those who mucked up with amendments a clean law that stood up for two years without legal challenge. I also blame the leadership that let this drag out until there was no more time when it could have been taken care of in the first month of the session if there was serious intent to extend the pay freeze.

    I don’t agree with Takai and Belatti that a veto and special session is a better solution than waiting until next session, but I don’t hold them responsible for creating the conditions that led them to call for a veto. I’d look at the committees that handled the bill, especially the Senate committee that produced the final version and the conference committee that fiddled while the house burned.

    One thing I do blame folks like Takai and Belatti for is waiting until it was too late to sound the alarm when they had to have seen this train wreck coming from a mile away as I did.

    If you don’t think it’s special treatment to take a raise for yourself while asking unionized employees to take cuts, I can’t help you.

  12. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Fair enough on the explanation, Dave. Thanks.

    As for the whole “special treatment” discussion, I don’t think it’s wise or fair for the legislators to get an increase when everyone else is sacrificing. However, the idea that they should get nothing after a dozen years of watching everyone get raises is something I disagree with. Of course that’s for a different discussion about timing, I suppose.

  13. yobo Says:

    Yeah, but as was said before, they’re STILL the highest paid part-time legislators in the nation.
    Hard to get past that one.

  14. freshstart222 Says:

    During the past legislative session, the Governor went on record urging the Legislature to pass several unconstitutional bills over the AG’s objections including the pension bill and other bills trying to take away accrued benefits from retired employees. So, why should he veto HB575? If anybody is unhappy with the continued pay freeze on July 1, 2011, they can sue. The Legislature for its part must amend the law next year to take away the windfall bonus they awarded themselves. They just keep taking, taking, taking and making excuses like the unconstitutionality defense (lame excuse) they used in taking the last 36% pay increase in 2009.

  15. Kolea Says:


    Can you provide a source which supports your assertion?

    As I understand it, there are only four full-time legislatures in the country. If you can provide a chart comparing the salaries (and per diem payments) for all the states, it is easier to see if your claim is accurate.

    I have seen so many spurious claims about Hawaii’s tax burden, for example, which are frequently cited but which do not stand up to close examination. I suspect the claim they are “the highest paid part-time legislators” would also be dependent upon strained explanations and definitions.

    But if you can back it up, I will look at what you are saying.

  16. Richard Gozinya Says:


    A few days ago,a post referenced the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website ( showed Hawaii had the highest paid part time crew.

    That same site has a breakdown of part/fulltime legislators at:

    Now,I’m not an inside baseballer. I am the old guy you spot down at the Ala Wai golf course talking politics and sucking teeth. I will say the populist view of our folks at the square building is that the legislature dithered and mealy-mouthed on issues of import. They failed to deliver the goods. In other words,if we taxpayer grouches were to give a performance review, the legislature as an entity would be streeted with prejudice. Of course, individual performance varied.

    It doesn’t matter if you work hard if you don’t get the job done and I think it fair to say the man in the street knows when the job didn’t get done.

  17. David Shapiro Says:

    Here are the two links on the 2009 NCSL salary study. The first gives state-by-state salaries and other info. The second breaks down which are full-time and part-time legislatures.

    Hipoli, not so that I would never favor a legislative pay raise. Instead of dog-and-pony show commissions, I would favor regular automatic reviews based on some objective marker of inflation or area wages.

    For instance, congressional pay adjustments use a formula based on changes in private-sector wages and salaries as measured by the Employment Cost Index. The adjustments are automatic unless the houses vote to decline. Since this method began in 1990, Congress has accepted a raise 13 times and declined seven times, including the last two years.

  18. charles Says:

    David, while the Congress has declined pay raises in the past, they have yet to enact a pay cut, which you are demanding of legislators. Are you saying it’s okay that they don’t take a pay cut in light of the federal deficit and all the rest?

    You also utterly fail to mention, recognize and accept the fact that during the 12 years that legislators received no pay raises, HGEA members received 33% in pay raises. Where was the outcry at this injustice? Or is this self-righteousness a one-way street?

    For the record, as I’ve said many times before, a pay raise (or not or cuts) for legislators is not my burning obsession as it is for some in here. Frankly, (with apologies to Clark Gable) I don’t give a damn.

    I suspect that’s why Belatti, Takai, et. al., didn’t raise the five alarm fire on this one. With hundreds of bills to consider, I would think this wasn’t anyone’s number one priority.

    Oh, and you might want to ask the Senate conferees why they dragged their feet on this one.

    Lastly, hipoli, you wrote, “Im quite sure Sir Charles is another baseballer, but a much older, less agile, and certainly not as pretty one.”

    Actually, in my salad days, I would show up with a basketball only to find out that people were playing baseball. But you got the rest of your statement right. Sad, but true.

  19. yobo Says:

    Ummm . . . so I guess the silence of the legislator defenders here means they are okay with Hawaii reps
    being the highest paid part-time legislators in the country? Anyone? So why didn’t ya just say so!

  20. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    It means we’re over this discussion.

  21. Kolea Says:


    I not only consulted the lists on the links provided, I actually imported the data manually into a spreadsheet. I have not had time to actually work the data, but here, in broad outline, is why your claim Hawaii legislators are “the highest paid part-time legislators in the country” is less illuminating than you might think.

    First are the definitions of ‘full-time” and ‘part-time” employed by the NCSL. They list only 4 states legislatures are truly “full-time.” (They label these Leges “Red.”) They label another 6 legislatures “Light Red”, and say they spend less time “on the job” than the Red legislatures. Combined, the Red and Light Red legislatures spend an average of 80% of their time “on the job.”

    There is another group of legislatures which spend about 50% of their time on the job. These are the truly “part-time” legislatures.

    Hawaii is in the middle, a “hybrid” between the two other groups. NCSL estimates “White” legislatures like Hawaii spend about 70% of their time on the job. Which is not much less than those they call “full-time.”

    Hawaii’s legislators do have the highest compensation in the White group. But when you factor in COLA to determine comparative compensation, it becomes clear Hawaii legislators’ compensation is not out of line as it drops to eighth in adjusted compensation among “White” states.

    It is common in the private sector for companies to factor in COLA adjustments in setting salaries for executives in different states. The Federal government does this as well for Federal employees. Hawaii has the highest COLA in the country, with a 164.9 index. The next two “White” legislatures in the NCSL study are Maryland ($43,500 and a COLA index of 125.8), and Delaware ($42,750 and a COLA index of 101.4). When COLA is factored in, the levels of comparative compensation, in ADJUSTED dollars, become more useful: Hawaii ($29,537), Maryland ($34,579) and Delaware ($42,160).

    I know this analysis I am presaenting is much more nuanced than you might like. But it is the fairest means for comparing legislative pay from different states IF we are going to use the NCSL’s data as the starting point.

    SO while your claim that “Hawaii’s legislators are the highest paid part-time legislators in the country” is technically true, it deserves a GIANT asterisk next to it anytime it is offered.

    But I expect you, as a person of both great personal integrity and the intellectual firepower to follow my presentation, will make sure to add the qualifiers.

    BTW, I do not think the term “legislator defender” is very useful in describing me. I am often criticizing individual legislators, even groups of legislators. I just try to avoid the sweeping condemnations of elected officials popular among some folks. If we fail to distinguish between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” we blind ourselves and undermine our ability to work effectively in the political realm.

  22. yobo Says:

    Kolea, thanks for your homework. I don’t buy the COLA argument every time someone brings it up though.
    The rest of the population (excepting Federal workers) don’t have COLA either, we’re all in the same boat. The median income of a Hawaii worker is anywhere from 35 to 55K, depending on the source.

    That makes legislators (with their fantastic benefits) at least twice as well compensated when considering it’s still a part time job. Witness Michelle Kidani with her full-time City job when state legislative session was pau last year. Plus working hard and spinning one’s wheels is meaningless when placed next to what was actually accomplished. Appreciate your analysis though. Thanks.

  23. Kolea Says:


    It is not quite accurate to say only Federal workers’ pay is influenced by COLA differentials. Corporate managers’ pay is generally adjusted when they are transferred. When teachers and nurses, for example, are recruited on the mainland to come to Hawaii, they quickly come to realize how valid it is to consider the relative cost of living in Hawaii when determining whether their salary is adequate. We can PRETEND COLA considerations are irrelevant to the discussion of pay, as that might be politically convenient. But in the real world, including in the much-praised PRIVATE SECTOR– the place conservatives want us to learn how “the real world operates”– making assumptions based upon unadjusted salary levels leads to foolish decisions. If a nurse, teacher, corporate executive or Federal employee finds COLA to be an important tool for making their economic decisions, why shouldn’t legislators?

    Again, to be clear, I am NOT advocating for the end of the 5% pay cut. That would be wrong, both morally and politically in the current budget crisis. Butu the notion that our legislators are grossly over-paid” for “part-time work” is unfair. Just as “you get what you pay for” in other spheres of life, so too with the talent of potential legislators. The notion legislators (or teachers, for that matter) should accept low pay as a sacrifice for the “public good,” simply means they will be even more beholden to corporate largesse for their supplemental income, their campaign contributions and the post-legislative employment. Which is why the “keep the legislators poor” argument, while appearing to be “populist,” is ultimately an argument in favor of a bought-off legislature, compliant with the corporate agenda.

    A few years ago, a lot of legislators and city councilmen had part time jobs with the various banks. Some are insurance salesmen. More work at law firms. That is the real world effect of forcing legislators to work part-time. The result is that the interests of their part-time employers end up being well-served by the Legislature while the interests of the public suffer.

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