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Door to governor's seat may hinge on furloughs


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hawaii's economy has finally become an issue in the 2010 governor's race.

The question all the candidates will have to answer is: How much will you pay state workers? Will you restore the pay cuts taken by the Lingle furloughs, will you make public workers whole, or are you going to continue to pay them 13.8 percent less?

If Gov. Linda Lingle's sweeping furlough plan stands, it means less money for an important political class. If you are a state worker making $50,000 a year, the two-year pay cut amounts to $12,847, certainly enough to make you vote for someone who promises to give it back.

But it is tricky math. In her address on Monday, Lingle acknowledges that her budget plan leaves the state with no surplus when she leaves office — no deficit, but not a penny left, either.

So how can the next governor responsibly promise more money?

How does this fit in with the presumptive candidates?

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is the only major Democrat to announce. He is as union-made as they come and if there is a way he can promise the public worker unions their money back, he will.

But, if the budget still doesn't balance, Abercrombie will find it hard to say we have to raise taxes to do the right thing for the rank and file.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has yet to announce for anything except Hurricane Preparedness Week, but he is coyly encouraging speculation that he is running for governor. Hannemann isn't shy about calling for tax increases; he's done it for transit and to balance the city budget, but this one is tricky. Hannemann also likes to drag out the "stone soup" metaphor to encourage community sacrifice.

Finally, there is Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the Republican heir to Lingle's budget decisions.

As of right now Aiona's options are limited to continuing the course plotted by Lingle, meaning the state keeps the money, or announce that he has struck oil in Makakilo and everybody is getting paid.

The Lingle furloughs could split voters into two groups: Those who want their pay restored and those who want the tax increases to stop.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)