Speak softly and get a big raise
THIS YEAR the Legislature should be thankful it is being dubbed the "kangaroo court" session for flaying Gov. Linda Lingle's cabinet and judicial nominees.
If the public and the press had been more alert, the 2007 Legislature would be known as the "$20 million pay raise Legislature."
Almost by reflex, Hawaii politicians are quick to promise a transparent Legislature and state government.
Then, with diligent work and bipartisan effort, the same leaders are able to shroud their sneakiest political acts.
In a stunning piece of opacity, the Legislature last year came up with a way to give everyone -- lawmakers, state officials and judges -- a pay raise, without once being held responsible for the raise.
The constitutional amendment offered by the Legislature and approved by the voters created yet another salary commission (the last one finished its work in 2004) that would meet and set raises. To get the money, all the Legislature had to do was ... nothing.
If the Legislature didn't stop the raises, all that was required was to keep on checking the mailbox for a fatter check. By 2014, the increases in salaries will amount to $20 million.
The commission's first meeting was Dec. 28. I suppose Dec. 25 was already booked and probably there were a lot of open meeting rooms during the week between Christmas and New Year's. The commissioners made sure all the meetings were open to the public -- they just never told anybody they were holding meetings.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who said her leadership of the Senate would be marked with "transparency," held no hearings into the $20 million expense. House Speaker Calvin Say was equally disinclined to publicize the raises. And the state administration of Gov. Linda Lingle also decided there was no need to improve on the legislative silence, except to publish the 508-page report on the Human Resources Department Web page, under the catchy heading of "HRD Information Central."
The House Democrats, the Senate Democrats, the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans each had a caucus meeting about their pay raises and then reacted with public, bipartisan silence.
Such legislative quietude is usually reserved for inquiries into what happened to a bill that, after being approved by all committees, just never makes it to the floor for a vote because someone didn't like it.
Now, after years pass and lawmakers watch their pay go from $37,500 to $57,582, they will all agree that silence is truly golden.