Tuesday, June 1, 1999

Finding money to fund
public worker raises

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano has refused to release $11 million to the city to help fund public worker raises.
Bullet Our view: The raises should not have been granted when the stagnant economy is forcing government to cut important programs.

THE latest chapter in the saga of the new city budget has to do with a pay raise for public employees that should not have been granted in the first place.

Mayor Harris says the city needs $11 million from the state to help balance Honolulu's $1 billion operating budget. If the state doesn't come through, Harris says he will recommend against the City Council's funding raises for employees represented by the United Public Workers.

The Legislature had approved release of the $11 million to help the city fund raises for UPW and Hawaii Government Employee Association workers. But Governor Cayetano is balking, saying he won't release the money.

Cayetano's position is that the city already is getting $27 million in a reduction of its contribution to the state Employees Retirement System that the governor engineered in order to fund the raises for state as well as city employees. He says the city should raise the rest of the money itself. Cayetano didn't participate in the Legislature's agreement to make up the rest of the funding, and he's not going to support it.

That sounds like the governor is getting tough, but it was Cayetano's pledge to fund the pay raises -- made during last year's election campaign, and for an obvious political motive -- that caused this situation.

After winning re-election, he found a way to make good on that pledge by cutting the contributions to the retirement fund, while declaring that the state would offer no increases in future contract negotiations. That was easy for him to say, because he can't run again and can afford to displease the unions.

Harris, of course, almost certainly has more elections in his future -- probably another run for mayor and then for governor. Like any Democratic hopeful, he needs public union support, which can be crucial.

But he has been struggling to balance the city budget in the face of an initially huge projected shortfall, and he was counting on that $11 million for the raises. Having backed away last year from a challenge to Cayetano in the Democratic primary, Harris may feel Cayetano owes him one.

Chances are the $11 million will be found somewhere and the UPW employees will get their raise. They usually do in this state, where the unions have kept the Democrats in power for nearly half a century.

But should they? Not when thousands of workers in the private sector have lost their jobs and government is slashing important programs -- such as the University of Hawaii School of Public Health -- to make ends meet in this stagnant economy. It's another case where the interests of public employees take precedence over the public interest.

Kashmir fighting

Bullet The issue: Fighting has escalated between Muslim guerrillas and Indian forces in Kashmir.
Bullet Our view: Talks between India and Pakistan on the issue must produce more than diplomatic posturing.

AFTER six days of Indian air strikes on Islamic militants, the first hopeful sign in the Kashmir crisis came yesterday with India's agreement to hold talks with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee waited three days to respond to the proposal of his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, for negotiations.

The two evidently responded to pressure from the United States and Britain, which are concerned that the fighting might get out of hand.

Both India and Pakistan exploded nuclear devices last year. Neither is believed to possess a delivery system for nuclear weapons, although they are working on them.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting guerrillas who seized positions on mountains in Indian-controlled territory, which Pakistan denies. The charge is plausible. The two countries have been feuding over Kashmir ever since the Indian subcontinent was divided in 1947, fighting undeclared wars in 1948 and 1965.

For the last 10 years Kashmiri Islamic groups have been fighting for independence from India or union with Pakistan. Kashmir is the only part of India that is dominated by Muslims.

Pakistan has long maintained that the people of Kashmir should have the right to self- determination. In 1948 the United Nations Security Council called for a plebiscite, but none was ever held -- mainly because India feared it would lose.

The main reason for the current concern is that the fighting has escalated into an air war. Two Indian fighter planes and a Pakistani helicopter have been shot down. Artillery exchanges are continuing across the frontier in Kashmir. Both countries have reinforced their armies along their common borders.

The irony is that three months ago the two prime ministers met and agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem. But Vajpayee, having lost a confidence vote, heads a caretaker government awaiting elections in the fall.

Sharif heads a virtually bankrupt government and may be trying to appease his generals.

Kashmir is a problem that seems to defy solution. But with both India and Pakistan achieving nuclear status, the dispute assumes more frightening proportions. Although the current fighting is still at a relatively low level, there is a real danger that it could become more serious. Those diplomats had better engage in more than posturing.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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