Legislators' pay should reflect year-round duties
ON MAY 8 the Star- Bulletin published an editorial titled "Legislators don't deserve full-year pay for short session." The article criticized the work and recommendations made by the state Commission on Salaries, which was delivered to the Legislature on March 30.
The commission attempted to bring the salaries to a level that would be "fair and equitable" through the consideration of several factors. The commission considered the positive economic condition of the state and the relatively minimal fiscal impact that the anticipated salary increases would have to the state budget. The commission recognized that for many years (some nine to 14 years) the judiciary, executive branch and legislative branch officials, who also are included in the recommendations, went without pay increases. Meanwhile, civil service employees statewide did receive several increases during this period, resulting in an inequitable pay relationship. In some cases, top level judicial, legislative and executive branch officials made less than the civil service staff and managerial employees they supervised.
THE COMMISSION also considered the fact that Hawaii's relatively low salaries for appointed and elected officials made it difficult to attract experienced and qualified individuals to apply for or remain in their positions. These factors, among others, prompted the commission to bring the salaries of appointed and elected officials under its jurisdiction to a level that would address fairness and equity in a meaningful way.
Although the commission recommended a new salary schedule for the judicial and executive branches, the focus of the editorial's criticism was on the recommendations specific to state legislators and their "part-time" duties. Hawaii does have a "part-time" Legislature, whose session lasts approximately four months each year. However, the responsibilities and duties of our legislators to the general public and their respective constituents go well beyond that time frame. The commission took into account the "part-time" label that has been given to our Legislature, and considered whether the remuneration should be based only on the four-month period or some other period. The commission took into account the expectations of our citizens that our elected officials be available to us beyond the first four months of the year, and that they respond to individual and community issues and concerns as they arise.
FOR EXAMPLE, neighborhood boards regularly expect legislators to report on various matters during their monthly meetings conducted all year round. The increasing complexity of our society places pressures on our legislators to keep abreast of developments in many fields such as economic development, health, safety, environment, communications, transportation and other matters that affect our lives. This can necessitate additional time and effort on the part of the legislators to study, research and learn new materials, which they can discuss and act on in upcoming legislative sessions.
Based on the foregoing considerations, the commission felt that while the legislative session might be four months long, the duties, responsibilities and time commitment of legislators to their public and constituents far exceeds that period. Therefore, the commission felt it appropriate to recommend a compensation schedule that sought to fairly and equitably compensate legislators at a rate that recognizes their contribution to our government service and citizens.
Benjamin A. Kudo is the chairman of the state Commission on Salaries (2006).