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StarBulletin.com

Ease budget pain by sharing burden


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POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

Hawaii is faced with a looming and monstrous deficit. There are only two options to solve the deficit problem: Increase revenue or cut expenses. No matter which solution we choose, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that pain and hardship are inevitable. That leaves the open question of who among us will do the suffering. This question remains no matter how we choose to solve the problem.

Problems with raising revenues: The governor and the Legislature can't agree to raise fees and taxes enough to begin to cover the shortfall. However distasteful as it seems, an increase in the excise and income taxes and fee increases might be the fairest way to distribute the inevitable hardship. If such tax and fee increases are fairly imposed, residents, public and private employees, retirees, business interests will incur hardship, but it will be suffered equally. But many of us are in denial and blindly reject any notion of a tax increase as an alternative. Therefore, it is likely that a politician who suggests any increase in taxes will be pilloried and might find it hard to get reelected. Our self-interest gets in the way of solving the problem.

Problems with cutting expenses: Cutting expenses now appears as the only option. Our principal expense is the public payroll and the governor had suggested a three-day-a-month furlough for public employees. If furloughs were visited on all state employees, the hardship would be, more or less, equally shared. So then why does the public union leadership and many of its members object to furloughs? Let me suggest a reason.

The option to furloughs is selected layoffs of public employees. Furloughs would affect all state employees but layoffs would affect a relatively smaller number of employees. Just like politicians, union leadership may be concerned with their personal survival. They may fear incurring the wrath of a much greater number of employees forced to take a three-day-a-month furlough and are willing to stand by while a much smaller number of employees lose their jobs. Rejecting furloughs is a sound political judgment, but an ugly bargain.

Throughout the country, union and private employees take furloughs in order to avoid layoffs of their fellow employees. Hopefully, our state employees will not turn a blind eye to their brothers and sisters who will be devastated by losing their jobs. It's time we look beyond our self-interest.

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Joe Gedan, a former U.S. magistrate judge, lives in Honolulu.