Legislators don't deserve full-year pay for short session
A state commission's recommendation is scheduled to raise legislators' income from the current $37,500 to $57,852 in 2014.
SAY aloha to Hawaii's citizen legislature. In seven years, Hawaii is scheduled to be the nation's only state whose legislators will be paid salaries as if they comprise a year-long congress while remaining subject to a session schedule and ethics code as part-timers. Our soon-to-be professional politicians should undo this outrageous money grab in their next session if they wish to attain credibility.
Nine states now have legislatures that essentially convene throughout the year. Their members earn incomes ranging from $45,569 in New Jersey to $99,000 in California, according to 2003 figures compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Part-time legislatures have had sessions that range from six weeks to six months, employ small staffs and pay members an average salary of less than $16,000, according to the four-year-old data. Those ranged from $100 a year in New Hampshire to $38,400 in Oklahoma. Hawaii lawmakers, who convene for 3 1/2 months, were paid $32,000 in 2003, fourth-highest among part-time legislators. Their salary now is $37,500.
House Speaker Calvin Say welcomes a salary level that is scheduled to reach $57,852 in 2014. Legislators are "struggling" to make ends meet, he explained to the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca. "The Legislature is a full-time obligation." That was never intended.
Members of what the National Conference calls "hybrid" legislatures "typically say that they spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job being legislators.... It's usually not enough to allow them to make a living without having other sources of income."
Among those 24 hybrid legislatures, only Hawaii's is brazen enough to reach for full-year salary levels while remaining in session for a short period. It was achieved through a seemingly innocuous constitutional amendment last November that created a seven-member commission to recommend salaries throughout state government.
It is significant that a majority four of the commission members were appointed by Say and the Senate president.
The commission did not conduct hearings or publicize its report. The amendment was tailored in such a way that the commission's recommendations were to take effect unless the Legislature voted to reject them. Of course, no such action was taken, and the salary schedule went into effect with the Legislature's adjournment last week.
The Star-Bulletin recommended in this space prior to last year's election that the constitutional amendment should be rejected. Creation of the Legislature-controlled commission, we warned, would make it too easy for legislators to give themselves pay raises without casting a vote, which seemed to us to be the underlying purpose of the commission.
The legislators' salary hikes to full-year levels are beyond our worst expectations and raise questions about their ethics code, which remains unchanged. Legislators traditionally have been part-time, holding other jobs during the rest of the year. Ethics guidelines are based on that assumption, requiring only disclosure, not prohibition, of other employment that might create conflicts of interest.