Friday, April 22, 2005


Hee should resign
as committee head


A staffer for the head of the Senate Higher Education Committee solicited campaign contributions from UH regents and nominees.

STATE Sen. Clayton Hee has admitted it was wrong for his part-time staff member to solicit campaign contributions from University of Hawaii regents and regent nominees. His offer to "accept full responsibility" for the coercion will be meaningless unless he relinquishes his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee, which oversees the university.

Hee denies having any knowledge of the arm-twisting until it was disclosed by Hawaii Reporter, a conservative political Web site. The $25 fund-raising tickets were distributed in blocks of 10 to regents and two nominees and the money was collected by Amy Agbayani, a former Democratic Party national committeewoman who is working as a part-time policy adviser for Hee.

Agbayani said she "sent them to colleagues at the university," where she is director of affirmative action programs. She remains on university salary and is on loan for part of her workday to Hee's office, which by itself creates a glaring conflict of interest.

Following the fund-raising activity, Hee successfully urged his committee to reject the nomination of John K. Kai and vote for confirmation of Ramon de la Pena to the Board of Regents. Kai said he "threw out" the fund-raising tickets, while de la Pena paid Agbayani for some of the tickets.

Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings remarked that the committee action "looks like quid pro quo," an observation that Hee says "is without merit and an insult to those committee members and their staffs." Even if the vote against Kai was not retaliatory, the fund-raising activity is no less abhorrent.

Agbayani's involvement should prompt a review of a system in which people are assigned to work in legislators' offices to provide expertise while drawing salaries from state agencies and even from special interest companies and organizations. Ethical problems abound in such a system, which should be eliminated.


Arbitration continues
to create fiscal woes


An arbitrator has awarded white-collar city and state employees 5 percent raises for each of the next two years.

DEMOCRATS' retreat from civil service reforms enacted during the Cayetano administration threatens to damage city and state services. Fiscal problems will continue far into the future unless the Legislature ends binding arbitration of labor contracts for all but essential government employees.

Legislators in 2001 enacted reforms proposed by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, who had been forced to cut funding of programs for the poor and disadvantaged because of exorbitant pay raises. Cayetano attributed the cuts to binding arbitration that had resulted in 15 percent pay raises over a four-year period, and the Legislature agreed to end binding arbitration for most city and state employees and restore the right to strike.

Binding arbitration had been adopted after a 1979 state employee walkout, and unions found that they could easily obtain their desired pay hikes by formally asking for twice the amount they wanted; arbitrators could be relied upon to award them half of what they proposed. That has been arbitrators' definition of compromise.

Two years ago Democrats reinstated binding arbitration over Governor Lingle's veto in a special session orchestrated by the 24,500 white-collar city and state employees represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association. Sure enough, HGEA asked for pay raises of at least 10 percent in each of the next two years, and an arbitrator this month granted raises of 5 percent.

The state had proposed raises of 1.5 percent each year for two years for those employees, who are completing a contract that gave them 8 percent increases over a two-year period.

The larger increase will mean the state "won't have the money we should for our needy, our schools, our harbors, our airports, our environment, new programs and initiatives," Lingle says. City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi says the pay hikes will cause the city to cut back its plan to offer property tax relief.

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