Friday, April 9, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

House panel changes
course on salary issue

By Mike Yuen


Public-workers unions won't be faced with legislators freezing government workers salaries for four years.

Instead, they may see key state and county lawmakers becoming members of the collective-bargaining team for the state and counties, bringing with them the authority to veto any pay raises that might be offered.

That's the proposal the House Finance Committee is recommending to the entire House after the pay-freeze initiative pushed by House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) ran into protests from four leading government-worker unions, including the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Even Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) criticized Say's pay-freeze initiative. One HGEA official confided that he has been lobbying the Senate, generally seen as less critical of labor than the House, to quash Say's proposal should it cross over to the Senate.

But while officials from the four unions could not be reached for comment last night on the revamped bill, one of their criticisms of Say's initiatives - that it is unconstitutional - also is haunting the new legislation.

Before House Finance voted to give its approval, Rep. Bob Nakasone (D, Kahului) questioned the constitutionality of the "veto power" initiative, fearing it might intrude on an executive-branch function.

It might be legally flawed, said House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo). But the thinking behind the proposal reflects the House leadership's concern that the state must be fiscally prudent, especially during the tough economic times the state is now enduring, Takamine added.

It makes more sense for lawmakers to say "up front" that the state has little or no funds for pay raises, rather than after collective-bargaining negotiations have concluded with agreements that would be impossible to fund, Takamine said.

"The hope is that with the legislative participation, even in the situation of arbitration, you have the realities of the state's ability to pay as part of the consideration," Takamine added.

Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki) added: "I think this is a smarter way to go."

Rep. Mark Moses (D, Kapolei) disagreed. The Democratic majority is still missing sight of the larger issue, Moses asserted. That's the need to reduce the size of government, and that can be done in large part by not filling many positions that become vacant, he said.

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