It's always about the money
I KNOW a fellow who has this for a political theory: "If you can't figure out what it is about, it is about the money."
If you are one of the Hawaii Government Employees Association's more than 40,000 dues-paying members, in some way this election is about the money.
Last week the HGEA and Gov. Linda Lingle enjoyed a strange debate. Not about who is better qualified to serve, Republican Lingle or the HGEA-backed Democrat, Randy Iwase, but about whether Lingle got a pay raise. The union mailed out campaign cards to all their members noting that Lingle snagged an 18 percent pay raise for herself and didn't want to give the HGEA's white-collar state workers a dime.
Well, there was talk of giving the governor and cabinet a pay raise, but the truth was the state Salary Commission recommended the raise but it does not go to the governor during the term it was recommended, meaning Lingle cannot get a raise without winning re-election.
And yes, if Lingle had her way, HGEA would not get the pay raises that were ordered through binding arbitration.
"The governor has no business telling the union what we communicate to our members," Russell Okata, HGEA executive director, fumed after the Lingle camp said the HGEA should retract its mailing.
Okata and the HGEA leadership know that the election is not just about who wins on Nov. 7; it is about the money.
The money is the more than $700 million in state surplus.
In the crudest of mathematical terms, that would be an extra $16,000 for each HGEA member. But, of course, the extra $700 million is already being tucked into the next state budget for other things, and there are other unions that will be thinking about pay raises come 2007.
A big chunk of that money, however, will go to state employees. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly was smart enough to take the money when the state was just starting to climb out of a recession, with the promise of more as times got better. The deal Lingle offered and that UHPA accepted meant that over six years, the professors would be making one-third more. HGEA, in comparison, has binding arbitration, which means the state and the union make a pitch to a mediator. The union usually gets the better deal.
"She cannot hide from the fact that the arbitration panel sided with HGEA over the state's ability to pay," Okata says, adding that the state's big surplus shows the state can pay plenty.
Who will be sitting on the surplus and who will be handing it out makes an important reason for voting in this election.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com