A baffled Cayetano said yesterday that Ways and Means' passage of a measure that would require him to negotiate instead of unilaterally imposing a $51.5 million payroll lag with public-workers unions reverses a legislative policy established last year and would "only open a can of worms that will lead to more problems."
He added: "I'm not sure whether they really thought it out. I guess sometimes political considerations reign supreme over there. But how can I negotiate the payroll lag with four, five unions? If one union says no, does that mean all of the other unions are not subject to the payroll lag?"
Cayetano said the lag, which would push one pay day into the next fiscal year, is critical to his financial plan. Without it, the state won't be able to pay for workers' pay increases, he insisted.
Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairwomen Lehua Fernandes Salling (D, Kapaa) and Carol Fukunaga (D, Makiki) declined to respond to Cayetano's remarks.
The House Finance Committee, however, was more in tune with Cayetano and yesterday reaffirmed his authority to impose a payroll lag. Under the bill, pay days would be pushed back five days, to the fifth and 20th of each month.
The payroll lag, Cayetano said, also benefits the state because government employees would no longer fill out their timecards before they complete their two-week work periods. That would end salary overpayments that have cost the state about $2 million the past couple of years.
Cayetano said that while lawmakers have readily criticized his financial plan, he has yet to see them put forward alternative proposals. He said he is willing to continue to listen to concerns about the payroll lag from bargaining units that have not yet settled contracts.
But he said he absolutely will not reopen talks with the unions for University of Hawaii professors and public schoolteachers, who nearly walked off their jobs before they got pay raises.
To go back to the negotiating table with those two unions, he said, could allow them to seek more concessions from the state and perhaps even cause the collective-bargaining agreements to unravel.
He also said yesterday that if he has to, he again will use taxpayers' money to buy radio spots to get his side of the story out, as he did when public schoolteachers were on the verge of striking.
"We've done many good things for the state, made many tough decisions, unpopular decisions, many of which are unpopular because they impact certain groups," Cayetano said.
"But with the general public, (the decisions) are perhaps unpopular because we're not able to get all the facts out."
Cayetano insisted that the changes he's seeking are not geared to improving his image.
"I don't include a media spin on whatever I do," Cayetano maintained. "I don't ask myself if I'm going to look good or whatever."
It is acceptable for people to disagree with him "if it is done with the full knowledge of the facts," Cayetano said.
Cayetano's decision to try to ensure that his positions are better understood comes at a time when his job-approval rating has nose-dived.
According to the latest Star-Bulletin Poll, conducted Jan. 14-17 by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. of Columbia, Md., Cayetano's poor rating of 23 percent is nearly double the level of a year ago.
It is also more than three times what it was two years ago.
Only 2 percent believe he's doing an excellent job, compared to 6 percent soon after Cayetano took office.
The Star-Bulletin's latest statewide survey, based on 417 telephone interviews of registered voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Elisa Yadao, director of the communications division at Bishop Estate, the state's largest private landowner, was ready to join Cayetano's staff to revamp the administration's communications network.
But Yadao, a former broadcast reporter, said she met with Cayetano yesterday and told him she has changed her mind and will remain at Bishop Estate.
Cayetano, meanwhile, also has moved to bolster his standing with native Hawaiians.
He hired a fellow Democrat, Peter Apo, as his liaison to the Hawaiian community. Apo, a former state representative who began his new state job this week, was until recently Mayor Jeremy Harris' coordinator for culture and the arts.
Harris is seen by many as a possible challenger to Cayetano in next year's Democratic primary. Maui Mayor Linda Crockett Lingle, a Republican, has said she is seriously exploring a gubernatorial bid.
Cayetano, who opposes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' demands that the state significantly increase its ceded lands payments to the semiautonomous agency, admitted he hasn't done a good job of communicating with native Hawaiians.
Apo, Cayetano said, "will be able to go freely in the Hawaiian community and be welcomed in different places and to give the administration's point of view."
Cayetano said the centralization of executive branch public information offices he's making shouldn't mean an increase in staffing. Some vacant positions will be left unfilled, he said.
With Yadao out of the picture, someone new will have to be selected "to pull things together," said Cayetano spokeswoman Kathleen Racuya-Markrich.
Cayetano said it is an acceptable practice for him to use taxpayers' money to get the administration's side out during crisis situations, such as when public schoolteachers were poised to strike. The teachers' union was using much more expensive TV spots to push its position - a $221 million pay increase over four years that would have made it virtually impossible to balance the state's budget, Cayetano contended.
Moreover, his radio spots had a legitimate state purpose because the intention was to get information out - not to boost his political candidacy, Cayetano said. "Only one of the radio ads mentioned the word 'governor,'" he added. "The other ads - we had five - talked about numbers, positions and what taxpayers would get for the pay raises. We spent $4,000 - $4,000 is nothing."