Monday, May 3, 2004

Education reform hangs
in balance today

White-collar raises also face
a crucial legislative deadline

With the $3.9 billion supplemental budget bill signed and behind them, state lawmakers tackle some key residual measures today before taking a two-day timeout going into final voting and ending the 2004 election-year session on Thursday.

Today is critical for everything pending as tomorrow and Wednesday are scheduled recess days during which measures cannot be positioned for floor votes the final day.

The state Constitution requires all bills be in their final form for a minimum 48 hours before the final vote, meaning today is the last day for changing bills.

Today will see how the reform of the state's public education system, deemed a top priority by all sides, and pay raises for white-collar workers play out.

On Thursday, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the Democratic-controlled Legislature's bill to decentralize the statewide system by putting more power and money in the hands of principals and using a formula to target funding to schools whose students face the greatest educational, social and economic challenges.

Lingle proposed instead of a veto override that lawmakers consider five fixes she said would make the Legislature's plan acceptable, allowing both sides to declare an election-year victory. House and Senate leaders said they would be considered.

The second most important measure hanging, both politically and fiscally, is the 8 percent pay raise state white-collar workers won in binding arbitration by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, a proven force in Hawaii's political arena.

Lingle, who says the state cannot afford the recurring $54 million annual cost over the next several years, has until midnight tonight to veto the measure.

She hinted Friday she would do that, sending the contract talks back to square one at the bargaining table where the state would offer a 4 percent increase. But the more likely outcome of a veto would be a veto override in the Democratic-controlled Legislature on Thursday.

Lingle has complained this cost and a $222 million surge in 2006 in what the state pays for its borrowed money and the cost of the employee pension plan, for which she says the Democrats have not accounted, will force her to "manage" the state's spending with cuts and restrictions.

The governor has declined to comment directly if in managing the budget and financial plan she is dealt by the Legislature it could cost state jobs.

She suggested the Democrats are pushing her in that direction by approving the HGEA pay raises.

"They are going to create more pain later on, and it very well could include having to lay off numbers of people," she said two weeks ago.

Also pending possible inclusion in the final budget plan today are pay raises being negotiated by the United Public Workers union for some 8,000 blue-collar workers.

State teachers have a tentative settlement, and university faculty members have ratified their six-year pact, which has a relatively small immediate cost but a surging cost in the later years.

Democratic leaders insist there is enough money in their financial plan for pay raises for all employees, including $32 million for the first year of the HGEA award.

However, their financial plan took a $20 million hit last week when Lingle vetoed a bill to raid the business-supported Compliance Resolution Fund by dissolving it.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa) said he was one vote shy as of Friday of the two-thirds vote required for an override.

That puts into jeopardy many of 50 pending appropriations bills and several tax credit measures that the state could not afford.


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