Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Panel recommends boosting
salaries for isle legislators

By Pat Omandam

The annual pay for state legislators would automatically jump by $2,200 to $34,200 in 2005, and could reach $40,000 in 2012, under a final report issued by the state Legislative Salary Commission.

Legislature 2003

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The pay raises for state lawmakers -- the first increases since 1993 -- are binding unless they are rejected by the Legislature or the governor. In 1995 the Legislature turned down pay hikes recommended by the 1994 salary commission.

House and Senate leaders said yesterday that if the latest pay raise recommendations are turned down, legislators will have to wait until at least 2013 before the current $32,000-a-year salary is raised.

"I think the Legislature really deserves something," said Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa). "I think by having some kind of an increase, we would at least try to attract some other people in the community who might not want to come to serve."

The salary commission reviews legislative pay every eight years. The panel's report covers pay for the 2005-2012 period.

House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said he believes House and Senate members deserve a pay raise, given the hours of work they put in each day, especially during the session. Since the pay hikes wouldn't take effect until 2005, he said, these raises are for those elected in next year's general elections.

House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) acknowledged it is a tough time to look at any increase in legislative salaries, but the state can hope the economy strengthens by 2005. Senate Republicans said they will oppose the pay hikes.

Senate minority leader Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo) said GOP members have recently opposed most pay raises for state workers, the Judiciary and the executive, so it's not appropriate to accept pay raises for themselves.

"I think right now people will understand, will get the message if they're supposed to hunker down, then we are, too," added state Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai).

State contract negotiations are under way with many of the state's public worker unions this year, and the Lingle administration has proposed some unions accept no pay increases over the next two years in lieu of increased health benefits.

Warren Daspit, chairman of the 2002 Legislative Salary Commission, said yesterday the decision to raise the pay was justified and prudent. The increases would be based on average wage hikes for Hawaii's private and public workers, but would be capped.

The proposed hike calls for an initial 6.7 percent increase in 2005, and annual increases of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent each year until 2012, when it is estimated pay for a legislator would be about $40,000 a year. The panel also increased the differential received by the House speaker and Senate president to $7,500 from $5,000 each.

Daspit said he's uncertain how the public will view the pay raises, but he believes the panel's recommendations are fair and reasonable. Commission member Sharon Narimatsu added that if legislators reject this pay increase, their pay will remain the same for 20 years.

"That's a long period of time to go without a raise," she said.

Gov. Linda Lingle said she met with commission members yesterday and thought its recommendations were "very fair." She said it's always a balancing act when discussing legislators' pay because of the question of whether they are full-time or part-time lawmakers.

"The worst possible situation is to have politicians in desperate financial situation and struggling to make it," Lingle said.

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