[ OUR OPINION ]
Lingle is right to refuse
to raid business fund
FOLLOWING through on last year's shameful repeal of civil service reform, Democrats in the Legislature are moving to raid special funds to assure public employee unions that they will get pay raises the state cannot afford. The move is proof that an arbitrator's decision approving the raises was faulty. Governor Lingle has vetoed legislative authorization for the raid, correctly calling it a "money grab," and legislators should recognize the measure's potential damage and support the veto.
The governor has vetoed a bill that would raid a special fund created by local business fees and use the money to help balance the budget.
The Legislature met in special session last year to provide for binding arbitration of collective bargaining contracts. Civil service reforms enacted two years earlier at the urging of then-Gov. Ben Cayetano had restored public employees' right to strike. The unions had found that, without that power, they were able to obtain hefty pay raises through binding arbitration by asking for twice as much as they wanted. Arbitrators had proven to be patsies.
An arbitrator recently ruled that the state could afford 8 percent pay raises for Hawaii Government Employees Association members in a two-year contract. Lingle says the state can afford only 4 percent raises.
Last year's resurrection of binding arbitration contains a caveat that pay raises cannot be justified by the state's power to increases taxes or fees, and also recognizes that the state can "use special funds only for authorized purposes or under special circumstances." Among those is the fund comprised of fees paid by regulated businesses to operate, in its entirety, the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. The fund is expected to total $38 million by the end of this year.
The Legislature set up the fund in 1997 to make the department self-sufficient. Prior to that, the department had received numerous complaints about its service. The department's operation has greatly improved because of the structural changes, "one of the most important of which is the self-sufficiency concept in its funding," legislators were told by Robert Alm, director of the department from 1987-93.
The current bill would dismantle the fund and direct fees by regulated businesses to the state's general fund. Legislators would be free to subtract the amount demanded by the public employee unions and send the rest back to a diminished Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. No wonder that 80 some businesses, regulatory boards and individuals testified against the bill when it emerged late in this session. Its sole support came from the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.
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Don’t postpone law
GIVE credit to the die-hard beverage, bottling and retail companies who have doggedly tried to set back the bottle-deposit law. Having lost the battle two years ago when the legislation was passed, various industry groups continue to nip away at the measure designed to encourage recycling and reduce litter on Hawaii's roadways, parks and beaches.
Beverage and retail outfits want the state's bottle-deposit law postponed.
Aware that once the law is implemented, their effort for its repeal will be more difficult so their tactic is to erect roadblocks to buy more time. As socially responsible businesses and corporations, the industry and retailers would be better off gearing up and getting with the program.
Lobbyists for bottlers and drink makers and some retailers contend that the law that will take effect Jan. 1 should be put off because the state Legislature is still adjusting some of the rules. It is a specious argument since few of the changes, if any, will have significant consequences. As a matter of fact, the industry has been involved in the adjustments and has been given advice on how to proceed by the state Department of Health.
The housekeeping bill lawmakers are working on would give retailers a six-month deferment to set up redemption operations should they choose to do so. The law doesn't require this. Customers may find it more convenient to buy drinks and return containers to collect the five cents of the six-cent deposit fee at the same location, but it is purely a business's decision. The law's opponents, however, want the whole effort to be held up.
Meanwhile, recycling outfits have been getting ready to collect the estimated 800 million bottles thrown away every year in Hawaii -- about 75,000 a hour -- and some bottling companies have begun labeling containers displaying the deposit fee, as the law requires. Environmental groups, all state and county agencies that handle waste management, residents and recycling companies favor the law. The tourism industry should welcome the effort since a common complaint from visitors concerns the amount of litter they see scattered across the islands.
In other states, deposit fees have had no effect on the amount of beverages sold. Recycling relieves landfills, reduces waste and recovers resources. It may even create jobs as recycling companies take in more work. There is no reason for the law to be delayed.