Lawmakers balance public, private duties
Many say their positions are full-time, even though they have other jobs
STORY SUMMARY »
IN A political move described as "ingenious," Hawaii legislators will enjoy a pay hike that within seven years will nearly triple the current national average income for similarly part-time lawmakers -- without having to vote on it.
In last year's election, voters ratified a constitutional amendment creating a seven-member commission fashioned by the Legislature to recommend future salaries of legislators and other state government employees. Four of the members were appointed by legislative leaders, and the commission decided that legislators' salaries should rise by more than $20,000 to nearly $58,000 by 2014. The recommendations automatically take effect without further legislative action, unless the lawmakers vote to reject the raises.
Although the Legislature meets each year for only 60 days during a four-month period, a Star-Bulletin survey indicates that many regard legislative activities as a full-time, full-year job, while some describe it as a "full-time obligation." None plan to quit their private-sector jobs as their public salaries increase.
FULL STORY »
HAWAII state legislators' salaries are set to rise by more than $20,000 during the next seven years, reaching $57,852 a year -- by far more generous than current payments to other similarly part-time legislators elsewhere, but not enough to cause them to abandon their private jobs.
Most legislators maintain that they put in enough hours throughout the year to deserve such a salary. Nearly all lawmakers who have jobs in the private sector and responded to a survey taken by the Star-Bulletin plan to keep them even if they are in the Legislature in 2014.
STAR-BULLETIN / 2004
A view of the Senate Chambers on opening day of the 2004 Legislature. CLICK FOR LARGE
"I think there's a nostalgia for part-time legislatures," said Tim Storey, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "People hang onto the term, but the demand for state policy-making just continues to encroach on that ideal."
The Legislature is in session for 60 days over a four-month period, but "serving the people of Hawaii is a year-round job," Senate President Colleen Hanabusa responded. "Providing the leadership to which our constituents are entitled means taking action when action is required, not according to a schedule."
STAFF HANDLE MANY INQUIRIES
Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) disagreed: "The Legislature is legally a part-time legislature." It is full-time "only when it is in session and even then for a partial part of the 60 working days."
Sen. Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kaimuki-Palolo) said, "In my view, the Hawaii Constitution intends a part-time legislature, and there is no obligation for legislators to work full-time." He maintains the job requires six to eight months of full-time work. However, Ihara said he expects the increased salary to bring more competition for legislative seats and thus "better performance" by the Legislature.
A Democratic representative who withheld identity because of "obvious retribution by my colleagues" insisted that being a state legislator "is not a full-time job. I am in the middle of a vacation twice as long as a schoolteacher's. No lawmaker shows up at the office every day during the interim. Constituents may call, but there is permanent staff to take care of routine concerns.
"We all ran for office knowing this job doesn't pay well," the anonymous legislator continued. "If we didn't like the salary, we shouldn't have run for office."
NATIONAL AVERAGE MUCH LOWER
Legislators from the 10 states whose sessions last all year make salaries ranging from $47,413 in Wisconsin to $113,000 in California, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most part-time legislators whose sessions range from six weeks to six months say they are underpaid.
Members of the 17 legislatures, including Hawaii's, that convene for 10 to 14 weeks are paid salaries averaging $19,258, according to NCSL figures. They range from $10 a day in Alabama to $38,400 per session in Oklahoma. Many also receive per diem pay, topped by Alabama's $2,280 a month plus $50 for each week when they actually meet for three days. In Hawaii, neighbor island legislators are paid per diem of $120 a day when in session in addition to their current pay of $37,500.
A survey conducted by the organization in 2002 found that Hawaii legislators estimated they spend between 70 percent and 75 percent of the work hours in a full-time job annually at legislative work -- session time, interim work, constituent service and campaigns.
The NCSL survey also indicated that Hawaii legislators do not report themselves the hardest working. Arizona lawmakers, who meet about the same period as the Hawaii session, told the survey that they spend 80 percent to 100 percent of a full-time job on legislative duties. Arizona's legislative pay is $24,000 a year.
AUTOMATIC PAY RAISES 'INGENIOUS'
The Hawaii pay raise resulted from recommendations made by a seven-member Legislature-tailored commission, including four members appointed by the legislative leadership, for non-union salaries in all the state's branches. The commission was created by voter ratification in last year's election, and its recommendations have begun taking effect without further legislative action.
"The commission reported to us the last week of the session," noted Sen. Fred Hemmings, who opposes the pay raise. "We are still trying to figure our course of action."
Leah Rush, until recently the director of state projects at the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, called the method of achieving the pay raise "an ingenious political move -- 'once-removing' themselves so you can't say, 'You voted for a pay raise.' ... You have to connect the dots.
"They also did a really smart thing where (the raises go into effect) over time, so who's even thinking of 2014?" Rush added.
Storey said legislators generally "shy away" from setting their own salaries. Some legislatures have indexed their pay to cost-of-living increases or to state employee pay raises "because they don't like dealing with it."
Both Rush and Storey said the pay raises might be politically beneficial. They pointed to New Hampshire, where lawmakers are paid only $100 a year. As a consequence, the chamber is full of retirees; the average age in a recent year was 63.
"You start to exclude certain people when the pay is set like that," Storey said.
Higher salaries might "attract more people to do the job, a different kind of people, not independently wealthy, not retired people," Rush said.
A FULL-TIME OBLIGATION?
In disclosures to the state Ethics Commission, nine members of the Hawaii House report no household income from private employment, while four receive pensions and seven have spouses with jobs. Three senators report retirement income and three report spousal income. Sen. J. Kalani English, Carol Fukunaga and Clayton Hee are the only senators who reported no household income, although Fukunaga noted in the Star-Bulletin survey that she is a part-time consultant.
Responses to the Star-Bulletin survey found overwhelming support of letting the pay raises proceed. Among 30 House members answering the survey, all but four agreed with a remark last month by House Speaker Calvin Say, regarding the pay raise, that "the Legislature is a full-time obligation." Ten of 14 Senate respondents agreed.
In response to the query about whether the $57,852 salary would be equivalent to one for "a full-time, full-year job," 11 House respondents and four senators said they regard it as such.
Five House members and one senator scratched out "full-time, full-year job" on the survey forms and wrote in its place "full-time obligation," Say's term and one that is used by some colleges and universities to control moonlighting or ethical conflicts by faculty. For example, Stanford has a rule that consulting activities "must not detract from a faculty member's full-time obligation to his or her university duties." Brown University has a rule against "conflict of commitment" where "a faculty member's outside professional and commercial interests interfere with or compromise his/her full-time obligation to the university."
"I've never heard of a legislative position described that way," said Rush. "It's not an obligation, it's a job. You're elected to do a job. It's on the public payroll."
Hawaii and other legislatures across the country -- even those that meet all year -- allow members to engage in outside employment that could result in a conflict of interest, as long as they disclose the information.
"Every state has a general prohibition of public office for private gain," Rush said, "but it's broad and isn't really enforced and is hard to prove."
Rep. Roy M. Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades), who reports being paid $25,000 to $50,000 as community relations director of the state AFL-CIO, is a member of the House Labor and Public Employment Committee. Democrat Rep. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, is chairman of the House Health Committee.
Eleven House members are practicing attorneys, and six of them sit on the House Judiciary Committee.
"Serving as a legislator is not a full-time job in the traditional sense," lawyer Hanabusa asserted. Legislators work "substantially more than 40 hours per week" when in session, she said. During the rest of the year they are at the Capitol fewer hours but "make themselves available to constituents," and their legislative offices are open and staffed.
"Like many community leaders," Hanabusa added, "legislators find themselves working into the evening, or scheduling meetings on weekends. We do this to meet our obligation to our communities, and that is certainly a 'full-time' obligation."
LESS TIME FOR PRIVATE PRACTICE
Those who make law as well as practice it said their private work is constrained by their legislative duties, while they maintain good private salaries: Sen. Ron Menor (D, Mililani) reported an income of $150,000 to $250,000 to the Ethics Commission from his law practice, while Hanabusa and Rep. Scott Saiki (D, Moiliili-McCully) reported earning $100,000 to $150,000 last year from their lawyering. Three House respondents reported law-practice incomes of $50,000 to $100,000; three others made less than that.
Rep. Marcos Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said he finds it "increasingly difficult to maintain a viable solo practice while fulfilling my legislative duties," and he accepts no new clients during the session.
Rep. Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) said his billing rates average 1,200 to 1,500 hours yearly -- 24 to 30 hours a week -- compared with a "typical" 1,800 hours for an associate law partner with his experience. Rep. Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa) said he receives no income from his law firm during the session and "a small fraction of what I used to receive" during the rest of the year before he was elected to the Legislature.
Likewise, freshman Rep. Sharon Har (D, Makakilo-Kapolei), an associate partner in a Honolulu law firm, said she "took a substantial pay cut to serve as a legislator because I can no longer attain my yearly 'billable' hours."
Legislators indicated in the Star-Bulletin survey that they plan to continue private employment if they are re-elected through 2014. The only exception is Slom, whose support of term limits could mean he has no plans to remain in the Legislature that long.
The following nonlegis-lative occupations and income ranges were reported to the state Ethics Commission by Hawaii's state legislators:
$150,000 to $250,000
» Robert Bunda, insurance broker
» Ron Menor, private law practice
$100,000 to $150,000
» Colleen Hanabusa, private law practice
» David Ige, Robert A. Ige and Associates Inc., program manager
$51,000 to $110,000
» Jill Tokuda, National Kidney Foundation, director of development; Charitable Ventures, owner
$50,000 to $100,000
» Fred Hemmings, Sports Enterprises
» Norman Sakamoto, SC Pacific Corp./Roll-Away Shutters of the Pacific, contractor
$35,000 to $75,000
» Mike Gabbard, with wife, M.C. Services, family counseling, sale of health products; and Ecoquest International, marketing "healthy living technologies and supplements"
» Sam Slom, Small Business Hawaii, executive director; and SMS Consultants, consulting economist and business consultant
$25,000 to $50,000
» Willie Espero, D.R. Horton, Schuler, community relations director
» Brian Taniguchi, Central Pacific Bank, consultant; Koga Engineering, director
$10,000 to $25,000
» Rosalyn Baker, Research Corp. of Hawaii, research on nursing curriculum
$1,000 to $10,000
» Russell Kokubun, Pulama ia Kona Heritage Preservation Council, management
» Shan Tsutsui, Hawaii Investment Securities
» Paul Whalen, legal and consulting business out of home
» Suzanne Chun Oakland, Gary Hooser, Clarence Nishihara, Les Ihara
» Lorraine Inouye, Donna Mercado Kim, Gordon Trimble
Reported no household employment income
» J. Kalani English, Carol Fukunaga, Clayton Hee
$100,000 to $200,000
» Josh Green, emergency room physician at two hospitals
» Roland Sagum III, Applied Planning Systems, consulting; Kikiola Land Co., manager
$100,000 to $150,000
» Scott Saiki, private law practice
$50,000 to $100,000
» Faye P. Hanohano, adult corrections officer
» Sharon Har, private law practice
» Michael Magaoay, A-1-A Lectrician, electrical engineer
» Blake Oshiro, private law practice
» Alex M. Sonson, private law practice, with wife
» Joseph Souki, realty
» Ryan Yamane, KIA Clinical Services Inc., clinical director
$25,000 to $50,000
» Karen Awana, City and County of Honolulu
» Lyla Berg, Lyla Berg & Associates, retail, rental, consulting
» Kirk Caldwell, private law practice
» Sylvia Luke, private law practice
» Scott Nishimoto, The Hana Group, contract manager
» Kymberly Marcos Pine, U.S. Veterans Initiative Building, Kapolei, helping house homeless veterans
» Maile Shimabukuro, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, attorney
» Roy Takumi, Hawaii State AFL-CIO, community relations director
» Tommy Waters, private law practice
» Kyle Yamashita, Waiehu Beach Partners, Kahului, general manager
$20,000 to $50,000
» Calvin Say, Kotake Shokai, president; Tikyo Bento Nichio, secretary
$10,000 to $25,000
» Robert Herkes, consulting services
» Angus McKelvey, McKelvey Inc., dba Anaka Productions, publisher
» Mark Takai, Army National Guard, officer
» Dwight Takamine, private law practice
» Rida Cabanilla, Army Reserves officer
» Glenn Wakai, Pineapple Tweed, public relations consultant
$1,000 to $10,000
» Jerry L. Chang, Hale Ohana Realty, real estate sales
» Colleen Rose Meyer, property manager
» Marcus Oshiro, private law practice
» Karl Rhoads, private law practice
» Della Au Belatti, Mele Carroll, Corinne Ching, Cindy Evans, Lynn Finnegan, Barbara Marumoto, John Mizuno, Hermina Morita
» Bob Nakasone, Cynthia Thielen, Clift Tsuji
Reported no household employment income
» Joe Bertram III, Pono Chong, Ken Ito, Jon Riki Karamatsu, Marilyn Lee, James Kunane Tokioka
» Freshman legislators Tom Brower, Joey Manahan and Gene Ward reported private incomes before taking office as legislators.
On the Net: