Posted tagged ‘budget’

Pay raises for legislators not dead yet

May 3, 2011

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.

Advertisements

Legislative salaries redux

April 28, 2011

House and Senate conferees will continue talks at 8 p.m. today on HB 575 to extend a 5 percent cut on legislative salaries from the current June 30 expiration date until Dec. 31, 2013.

Meantime, our longtime contributor Charles added a comment to my Monday post on the subject criticizing me for not mentioning arguments in defense of the Legislature’s 36 percent pay raise in 2009.

I doubt many were still following the thread by time Charles posted his comment, so to be fair to the other side, I’ll put him in prime time:

David conveniently forgets everytime he mentions the raises that legislators went without any raises for 12 years; a period when I dare say everyone working in Hawaii (including David and me) got raises.

Now if during that time, David wrote a column complimenting legislators for not having a raise when everyone else was, I missed it and maybe he can provide a link to it.

For me, I don’t know what is “fair” in terms of compensation for legislators but I have two observations:

1. Many claim it’s a cruise job getting paid almost five large ones for four months of work. Does anyone truly believe that all legislators simply close their doors at the end of session and then open back up the day session opens the following year?

2. If it’s such a cruise job, it’s puzzling why there are so few takers.

Again, it is true that the salary commission recommended a 36% pay raise for legislators (and it must be noted far bigger raises, dollarwise, for the executive branch and judges). And if David wants to continue to raise this fact ad nauseum, go for it. But to never mention that they went without raises for a long time to put it in context seems that David wants to make a point rather than be accurate.

That said, it’s his blog and his right to be inaccurate by omission.

I’ll give him the last word on the bulk of his argument (for now, anyway), but a couple of points of clarification:

• My problem wasn’t so much with the amount of the 2009 raise, but its timing in the worst recession in state history when lawmakers were demanding sacrifices from everybody else. No matter how entitled they felt, the only true leadership is by example.

• Alas, I wasn’t getting raises as Charles assumes in the years legislators went without. My pay for my newspaper column remains the same as when I first contracted to do it 12 years and three newspapers ago.

Frankly, I’m just grateful to be one of the few of my contemporaries still in print journalism — and still having fun at it.

Will legislators share in the pay sacrifices?

April 25, 2011

Most unionized state workers are looking at 5 percent pay cuts over the next two years, but it remains to be seen if their leaders in the Legislature will impose the same cuts on themselves.

After being widely criticized in 2009 for taking 36 percent raises for themselves while demanding sacrifices from everybody else in one of the worse years of the recession, lawmakers voted to take a 5 percent cut along with administrators and judges.

But that pay freeze expires June 30 unless legislators extend it before they adjourn May 5.

Measures to extend the legislative freeze until Dec. 1, 2013, have passed both the House and Senate, but language differences must be worked out in conference committee. The Senate has named conferees led by Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee, but the House has not named conferees and no meetings are set with time running out.

If the 2009 pay freeze expires, lawmakers will not only get back the 5 percent cut, but also two frozen 3.5 percent increases granted by the state salary commission that were scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010, and Jan. 1, 2011. The salary commission schedule also calls for 3.5 percent raises in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Under the latest version of the extension bill, HB 575, all of the lost pay — a total of 22.5 percent — would be restored to legislators on Jan. 1, 2014, increasing their current pay of $46,272 to more than $56,600. The president of the Senate and speaker of the House receive an additional $7,500.

Update: The House appointed conferees Monday led by Reps. Karl Rhoads and Marcus Oshiro, but the bill was re-referred to both the Labor and Finance committees and no conference session was scheduled.

Legislature proposes welfare for losing contractors

April 15, 2011

One of the more puzzling bills still alive in this year’s Legislature is HB 985, which allows the state to pay a “conceptual design fee” to some losing bidders on state contracts.

An amended version passed the Senate this week with only Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Sam Slom objecting.

There have always been risks inherent in bidding on public works jobs, and there’s no legitimate public purpose in needlessly running up the cost of state contracts by paying off unsuccessful bidders for the cost of preparing their bids.

Rather, it seems a blatant attempt by lawmakers to give more of their political campaign donors a taste of the action at taxpayer expense — and at a time when the state is strapped for cash and others are in far greater need of a helping hand.

Hopefully this stinker will die in conference committee, where it’s headed after the House disagreed with Senate amendments.

***

Matt Levi is back on TV with a new series, “Hawaii Investigates.”

The first show, which looks into problems at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility, made its debut last night on KGMB and repeats at 6:30 tonight on KHNL.

Levi, a private investigator and former investigative reporter, first took cameras into HYCF 26 years ago and returns to talk to staff, young offenders and judges to see if conditions have improved.

The good news, he reports, is that there’s been significant improvement in both philosophy and management — especially since the federal government threatened to shut down the facility in 2005.

The bad news, Levi says, is that the issues with many of those incarcerated aren’t fundamentally criminal in nature, but the kids remain there at a cost of $131,000 per year because the courts have few viable — and cheaper — treatment options available.

“Hawaii Investigates” is produced by Hawaii Reporter.

Wrestlemania, Washington style

April 8, 2011

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for contrived political melodramas like the fight in Washington over the federal budget.

President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate and the Republican House have been playing brinksmanship for weeks over how much to cut, with the threat of a federal government shutdown looming in the background.

The closer they seem to get, the further apart they seem to be as the national political debate resembles the WWE more every day, with clownish men and women bulked up on partisan steroids playing to the gallery with intentions that have more to do with drawing political blood and ducking blame than setting national spending.

Writing a budget is one of the main responsibilities of Congress and six months into the year they don’t have a budget for this year, much less an orderly process underway for drafting next year’s.

It’s hard to disagree with our own Sen. Daniel Inouye that this is no way to fund a government, and the unbecoming circus puts me in a “wake me up when they make a decision” state of mind.

I fully realize that tuning out the foreplay can be a dangerous thing. I paid little attention to the chest-thumping leading up to the Iraq war because deep down, I didn’t believe George W. Bush would be stupid enough to start dropping bombs.

Eight years later, I still don’t believe it.

Will the HGEA contract set the standard?

April 7, 2011

It’s hard to say for sure without seeing the fine print, but the tentative agreement between the state and the Hawaii Government Employees Association announced yesterday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie seems a fair contribution by state and county workers toward reducing the state’s $1.3 billion deficit.

Basically, the 28,000 active white-collar workers represented by HGEA would swap their current deal of two furlough Fridays a month — the equivalent of about an 8-percent pay cut — for a straight 5-percent pay cut and six hours of personal time off a month. Workers would also pay 10 percent more of their health care premiums than they currently do.

The end of the disruptive furlough days that close state offices is welcome; the personal time off can be scheduled when mutually convenient and is far easier to manage without disrupting services.

The governor’s office said the deal saves the state about $65 million next fiscal year and $59 million the following year. If similar agreements are reached with other government unions it would increase the savings accordingly.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and some legislators raised concerns that the savings weren’t enough, but it’s what Abercrombie said he was shooting for all along and a substantial bite out of public worker pay checks — within the ballpark of what workers in the private sector are facing.

The governor needs at least one county mayor to go along to enact the deal, and presumably he wouldn’t have announced it if he didn’t have one. Hopefully, more details will be released as that is sorted out so we can more fully evaluate the fairness of the contract to workers and taxpayers.

The HGEA contract usually sets the rough terms for blue-collar workers represented by the United Public Workers.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which can’t seem to settle contracts anymore without a lot of drama, could be trickier, and President M.R.C. Greenwood at the University of Hawaii could find herself in a pickle with a six-year faculty contract she agreed to that requires UH to soon repay professors for the labor savings of the last two years and give them raises in the final two years.

Greenwood was betting that the economy would bounce back and it hasn’t happened. She won’t find it easy to get cash-strapped legislators to give the semi-autonomous university general fund money to pay for her promises.

DARE to prioritize public spending

April 4, 2011

I was sad to read that the Honolulu Police Department is drastically cutting back its popular 25-year-old DARE program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

One of my grandsons recently had a visit at his elementary school from DARE officers, and the anti-drug message clearly made a strong impression on him.

But listening to Chief Louis Kealoha explain the move, it made obvious good sense in this challenging fiscal environment to trim DARE back from the 120 schools it currently covers to about 40 schools that have the highest concentrations of at-risk students.

When budgets are tight, the chief said, core responsibilities have to be the priority — in the case of police, law enforcement and public safety. DARE doesn’t fall under the core; cutting funding there helps the department to maintain patrols in O‘ahu neighborhoods.

It’s exactly the right way to manage a shrinking budget, and it doesn’t happen often enough in public agencies, where there’s a constituency ready to fight for every nickel in state and county budgets.

Administrators can work diligently to cut at the edges while preserving the core, only to be thwarted by advocates for the programs being cut who are able to use political pressure to fend off change.

This has been especially prevalent in the Department of Education, where administrators attempting to make necessary cuts and consolidations have had to gird for drawn-out battles before the Board of Education that they’ve often ended up losing.

Everybody wants the DOE to set priorities, be more efficient and eliminate duplication — until it’s their school or program being cut.

With the new appointed BOE coming in this month, hopefully the decision-making process will be streamlined, less drama-ridden and sharply focused on serving the core responsibilities first.


%d bloggers like this: