Monday, April 5, 2004

Pay raises fueling
partisan debate

Legislative leaders opposed salary
hikes for state executives and
judges last week

Pending pay raises for 47,500 rank-and-file state workers, about 70 state judges and 42 top state executives are fueling the partisan debate at the state Capitol between Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Soon after Lingle suggested last week that she might recommend against funding the then-pending binding arbitration award for 23,000 white-collar workers, legislative leaders introduced resolutions to reject executive and judicial raises recommended by two independent commissions.

After a binding arbitration panel awarded 23,000 white-collar workers a two-year contract with no pay in the first year and merit increases and a 5 percent increase in the second year, Lingle declined to say whether she would recommend funding. She said she would announce her plans by Wednesday.

The argument made by the Legislature's Democratic leaders is that if there is not enough money for state workers, there probably is not enough for the governor's Cabinet and state judges.

Lingle has stayed out of the debate over increases for her office and her top administrators, but Republican lawmakers called it "petty politics" by the Democrats.

The House Labor Committee and Public Employment Committee started a hearing on the executive and judicial pay raise rejection resolutions Friday morning but deferred a decision after delaying the proceeding until Friday evening.

The resolutions call for the commissions to reconvene in November and make new pay recommendations to the 2005 Legislature.

Attorney General Mark Bennett testified against "this very bad resolution" to reject the Judicial Salary Commission's recommended pay raises for judges of 14 percent by July 1, 2005, followed by 3.5 percent annual hikes until 2012.

The five-member Judicial Salary Commission created by the Legislature "in an outbreak of good government" last year determined that when adjusted for Hawaii's high cost of living, the judges' pay ranked 48th in the nation, Bennett said.

"This is not something that we as a state want to be proud of," he said. "Judges work hard, and having the right judges, having effective judges, having qualified judges is necessary for our judicial system to correctly and appropriately function," he said.

He declined to comment on the executive pay resolution.

House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) issued a joint statement saying they want to delay the pay raises for one year "because of concerns over the impact and structure of what's being proposed."

"There are several concerns we want both commissions to address before we approve the pay hikes, among them the generosity of the raises at a time when the administration is claiming there is no money for raises for rank-and-file employees," they said.

Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise) issued a report Friday night that estimated the proposed executive pay hikes would cost $404,254 in the coming fiscal year and $470,269 the following year. It estimated the cost of the judges' 14 percent pay hike at $1.3 million.

Lingle said while she has not testified on the pay issue, she feels "it's important that an immediate raise go into effect for our Cabinet members. They haven't had a raise in 14 years, and no one else in government at any level has been treated like that."

The pay feud does not end there.

In its report on the state's supplemental budget bill, the Senate Ways and Means Committee criticized Lingle's strong support for the negotiated six-year contract giving a total 34 percent pay increase to the University of Hawaii faculty while pleading state poverty when it comes to the binding arbitration award for the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

"The governor's current general fund financial plan does not account for the new costs of the (faculty) contract," the committee said. "Further, if the contract costs are factored into the existing plan, it would exceed expected revenues."

The committee said it believes that might be unconstitutional.

It also raised questions about signing a six-year contract when it only can be funded by the Legislature and governor in two-year budget increments.

While Lingle said the faculty pay hikes would not come from tax increases or cutting services, but by the improving economy, the lawmakers said, "Unless this committee has not been informed of any specific legislation proposed by the governor that expands the economy, it believes that the governor must rely on the current economic projections."


Salary Commission says
state agents deserve more

If the state Legislature rejects pay raises for state judges, the next recommendation will probably be higher, said Michael Irish, a member of the Judicial Salary Commission.

The commission is recommending average 14 percent pay raises for state judges, the administrative director of the courts and his deputy starting July 2005, and 3.5 percent annual pay hikes for the next six years.

The pay raises will cost the state an additional $1.3 million in the first year.

House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda want the commission to return with new recommendations next year because the Legislature is struggling this year to find funding for unionized employees' pay raises.

"Whether we convene next year or another committee convenes next year, it will be much higher," Irish said.

He said the commission was going to recommend across-the-board 25 percent pay raises for state judges plus annual increases of up to 5 percent. Irish said the commission instead recommended what it thought the state could afford rather than what it thought the judges deserve.

The salary for the chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court would jump to $140,000 from $116,779 in the first year, while the salary for a district court judge would increase to $114,600 from $100,761.

Say and Bunda also want the Executive Salary Commission to return with new pay hike recommendations for the governor and her Cabinet. The salary commission wants to hike the governor's $94,780 salary to $112,000 in July 2006, and the lieutenant governor and chief of staff, $100,000 from $90,041.

The salaries would then increase 2 percent per year for the next six years.

The recommended pay raises for state department directors and their deputies range from 5.5 percent to 23 percent under a new salary structure that would take effect this year. The current salary for department directors is $85,302, while the salaries for deputies range from $72,886 to $77,996. The new salary structure establishes four different pay levels for the directors and their deputies.

The executive pay raises will cost the state an additional $404,254 in the first year and $470,269 over the current year's budget.

Say and Bunda have introduced resolutions to reject the recommendations of the salary commissions. If state lawmakers do not reject the recommendations by the end of the legislative session, the recommendations are automatically adopted.

At a hearing last week on the legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 189 and House Concurrent Resolution 190, Hawaii State Bar Association Vice President Richard Turbin urged the Legislature to accept the judges' pay raises.

"By not following the recommendations of the Judicial Salary Commission, there is a danger in our society, the danger that the public will not be happy," Turbin said.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett pointed out that Say and Bunda appointed four of the five members of the Judicial Salary Commission.

"It is inconsistent with good government for the Legislature to appoint a commission like this, ask them to do their work, have them do their work and then make a decision to simply reject their findings."


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --