Lawmakers to vote
on judges pay raises,
By Craig Gima
Gov. Ben Cayetano says some lawmakers are reluctant to support his plan to reduce retirement benefits for judges because it might lead to changes in their own retirement.
Unlike other state and county workers, judges and elected officials are allowed to retire after 10 years and their benefits are calculated using a higher 3.5 percent multiplier.
"I think some legislators are concerned that if we change the judges from 3.5 (percent multiplier) to two(percent multiplier), that the media, the public will ask why not change yours," Cayetano said.
Judges have not had a pay raise in nine years. Cayetano vetoed a pay raise in 1997 because it did not address the retirement issue which he said was an incentive for judges to retire early.
Both the House and Senate Judiciary committees are scheduled to vote on bills to give judges a raise tomorrow.
Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Eric Hamakawa (D, Hilo) said he does not believe lawmakers are thinking about their own retirement when they consider the judges' pay raise and retirement bills.
"I think the issue should be decided on its own merits and not tied together," he said.
In the Senate yesterday, the Judiciary Committee considered a bill that would give judges a retroactive pay raise to July 1, 1997, and would tie future raises to the consumer price index. It would also change the retirement benefit for new judges so they would not be able to retire until age 55, but does not change the 3.5 percent multiplier.
The change in retirement would not affect current judges.
In arguing for the pay raise, businessman Laurence Vogel told senators, "If I had not given my employees a raise in nine years, I would not have a business."
Deputy Attorney General Diane Erickson urged senators not to make the raise retroactive because a retroactive raise would also reward judges who have already left the bench.
She also urged senators to consider the Cayetano administration proposal to give judges an additional raise if they are retained for a second term and reduce the 3.5 percent multiplier begining next year.
"Judges are among the highest paid state employees, so it seems reasonable that the multiplier would be reduced if they're getting a substantial pay raise," Erickson said.
The Senate bill would raise the salary of the chief justice from $94,780 to $122,743 on July 1. A district court judge's salary would go from $81,780 to $105,908.
Cayetano said that since lawmakers do not make as much money as judges and don't have as much job security, a case can be made that they are entitled to a better retirement plan.
"Certainly for that time he or she puts into office I think a case can be made that they should continue to have a 10-year-and-out and a 3.5. I think it's justified," he said.
Overtime stillBy Mike Yuen
calculated into retirement
Gov. Ben Cayetano has chastised the House Labor Committee for spiking a bill that would have eliminated overtime in calculating retirement benefits for government workers.
"I think it is unfortunate," Cayetano said yesterday. "We have been looking at this issue now for five years and each year legislators cave-in to political pressures."
The rejected measure, introduced by 30 of the 51 House members, including Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo), would have saved the state and counties $20 million annually and also would have removed an incentive for abuse, many believe.
The bill would have eliminated overtime from the retirement formula beginning on June 30. All overtime worked prior to that date, however, would count in retirement pay calculations.
House Labor Chairwoman Terry Nui Yoshinaga (D, Moiliili) was unavailable for comment yesterday. When her panel heard the measure earlier this week, she said she was swayed by law enforcement officers who testified that the bill would be a morale killer.
When Cayetano was asked if he thought Yoshinaga's panel was intimidated by some 60 uniformed Honolulu police officers who appeared at the hearing, he said police, firefighters and prison guards, like anyone else, have the right to lobby.
"That's part of the process," Cayetano said. "It's up to the legislators to have the will to do what they think is right. The question I have been asking these guys is, do you want to have reform or not as we head into the next century?"
Cayetano added: "If you were to sit down with an actuary or anybody who knows anything about retirement systems, they will tell you that when you use overtime in the calculation of a pension, it is unfair to the people in the rest of the system because someone is going to have to pick up the additional cost."
Say and the others who introduced the bill said it was never the Legislature's intention that certain government workers who worked more overtime were to receive more generous retirement allowances.
The most fair policy is to eliminate overtime pay in determining retirement benefits, they stated.
Tam callsBy Pat Omandam
for expulsion of
State Sen. Rod Tam has formally asked that Mayor Jeremy Harris be expelled from the Democratic Party of Hawaii because he claims Harris supported other candidates in Tam's district race in last fall's primary and general elections.
"Of course, I believe Rod Tam is the worst legislator over there," Harris said yesterday. "As you well know, he's a laughingstock, and I think it's unfortunate that we didn't get a Democratic candidate in there who was pro-business, articulate, to represent that district."
In a letter yesterday to Karen Kaeo, secretary of the Oahu County Committee of the Democratic Party, Tam (D, Pauoa) asked that Harris be expelled because he publicly endorsed Democratic challenger Audrey Hidano in the primary. Tam said it was inappropriate for Harris, as co-chairman of the Democratic Party's Coordinated Campaign last fall, to support Hidano when party policy is to remain neutral in the primary election.
Tam beat Hidano by 29 votes in the primary. Although there were 205 blank votes cast in the race, Hidano did not challenge the election results.
Tam also accused Harris of appearing in a campaign brochure for Cindy Rasmussen, Tam's Republican Party challenger in District 13, which covers Nuuanu, Downtown, Liliha and lower Kalihi. In the brochure, Harris is seen with his hands clasped bowing across from Rasmussen during a ceremony.
Tam says it is a sign that Harris enthusiastically participated in her general election campaign and is cause for his expulsion from the party. He asked the party's rules committee to respond to his complaint by Feb. 24.
Under party rules, a member may be expelled, censured or reprimanded if the member actively supports or promotes another political party or candidate through campaign ads, letter writing, etc.
But Harris contends he had never seen his picture in the brochure until yesterday and would have complained to Rasmussen if he did so earlier. Harris said the photograph was taken during a public Chinatown community event honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen and it was published without his permission.
Harris stressed he did not endorse any Republican candidate last year. He added his support of Hidano is based on having better representation in that district.
State Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen yesterday said he has not reviewed Tam's case. Heen explained the next step is to notify Harris in writing of the complaint and have the rules committee conduct an investigation.
Once the investigation is completed, the committee will file a report to the chairman for action.
Tam held his news conference yesterday at the Democratic Party headquarters on Kapiolani Boulevard, where Harris controls the lease to the offices and allows party use of it because the Harris campaign is in an off-election year.
Bill for freeBy Pat Omandam
UH tuition for Hawaiians
The House Higher Education Committee has forwarded an amended House bill that gives millions of dollars to the University of Hawaii so it can offer free tuition to native Hawaiians.
After receiving overwhelming and passionate testimony in favor of House Bill 704 yesterday, Committee Chairman David Morihara (D, Makawao) recommended the measure be forwarded, with changes, for consideration by the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
The measure originally granted 500 additional tuition waivers to financially needy native Hawaiians, on top of the 250 granted now.
While his committee would like to require UH to give free tuition to Hawaiians, Morihara said such an unfunded mandate essentially would amount to a cut to the UH budget, depriving other students of services and programs as money is used to pay for the waivers.
Instead, the committee amended the bill to give UH $7.2 million for free tuition to Hawaiians. UH officials told the committee there are 6,235 Hawaiian students in the university system and it would cost UH $7.2 million a year to give them free tuition.
More than 68 people offered testimony on the measure during a four-hour hearing. A petition with the signatures of 250 people who favor the measure also was presented.
A similar version of the bill is expected to be heard soon by the Senate Education and Technology Committee.