Senators cool to idea of cutting worker pay


POSTED: Saturday, March 28, 2009

Senate leaders who plan to start mapping out a budget strategy this weekend are saying they do not like Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to balance the budget with state worker pay cuts and federal stimulus money.

Lingle's proposal calls for swapping $90 million in state education money for $90 million in federal stimulus money to balance the fiscal 2009 budget and then using $278 million in pay and benefit cuts to balance the next two-year budget.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Ways and Means Committee chairwoman, was briefed on the plan yesterday by Budget Director Georgina Kawamura and said she did not like it.

“;These are all short-term fixes she is proposing. It is going to leave the future budgets in 2012 and 2013 in really terrible shape,”; Kim said after yesterday's budget hearing.

In contrast, Kawamura said the Lingle administration is trying to provide Kim and other legislators with information.

“;With this process we propose and they either agree or disagree,”; she said.

“;In the disagreement portion, they then come up with their own proposals, and at the end of the day, we get a workable budget plan, but we are not there yet,”; Kawamura said.

The debate has been growing tense.

Earlier this week, Patricia Hamamoto, state schools superintendent, worried that the federal stimulus money might not reach Hawaii in time to replace the $90 million subtracted from her account.

If the money does not come, Hamamoto said, she would be forced to close schools early.

Kawamura shot back that students' parents “;shouldn't listen to her,”; adding that Hamamoto was “;irresponsible and unprofessional.”;

Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) also is skeptical of Lingle being able to get the public worker unions to agree to $278 million in wage and benefit cuts, noting that the four county mayors have to agree to the reductions.

“;I talked to one of the mayors, and he said they haven't agreed to anything, and I understand the mayors are going to put together their own proposal,”; Kim said.

If the budget is not balanced with pay cuts, Kim said, the Legislature will have to take the politically unpopular step of raising taxes. Kim said she does not want to move on tax increases.

She added that state House leaders already have ruled out an increase in the general excise tax. So, Kim said, that leaves only increases in the state income tax, the hotel room tax or other smaller revenue sources such as tobacco and liquor taxes.