Yes, binding arbitration may cost state in the end


POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In July of 2003 the state Legislature's Democrats sealed the economic fate of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and to a large degree set in motion today's looming public worker debacle.

Democrats back in 2003 desperately needed to climb back into the good graces of the politically powerful public worker unions, especially the Hawaii Government Employees Association. They did so by killing what Gov. Ben Cayetano had called “;the most important government reform of decades.”;

Two years earlier Democrats led by Cayetano and Sen. Colleen Hanabusa took away the HGEA's binding arbitration laws, forcing HGEA to act like all other unions and either bargain or go on strike to win a new contract.

Cayetano, although a strong Democrat, had called for the end of binding arbitration because unions always won and the settlements cost the state big bucks with the unions giving nothing in return. In the spring of 2000 the unions' majordomos, Russell Okata of HGEA and Gary Rodrigues of UPW, threatened the Legislature; the reform bill passed. Later Rodrigues would be rendered impotent after losing his leadership of the United Public Workers when he and his daughter went to a federal prison on union corruption charges—but the union also punished Democrats that fall in the elections.

So in 2003 the Democrats scurried back into the unions' good graces by repealing the reform in what Okata called “;a defining moment in Hawaii's political history.”; What it did was define the Democrats' position of servile fawning over the HGEA. Hanabusa was the only Democrat to vote against the unions.

Gov. Lingle warned at the time that binding arbitration “;encourages both sides to take extreme positions”; with the arbitrator splitting the difference.

Since then Lingle has never really been in control of her state budget, because the public worker unions would gobble any budget excess with big arbitrated pay raises.

With arbitration, HGEA has been raking in the dough. Since 1999 the HGEA has won pay raises of 33 percent, with the biggest settlements coming via arbitration.

Today we are settling the 2003 accounts. The state is broke, no unions have settled because everyone is waiting for the result of HGEA's arbitration. Inexplicably Lingle agreed to postpone the arbitrator's decision until December.

That deadline means that if the decision comes in favor of HGEA, the Legislature in 2010 will have to either raise taxes big time to pay for it or go along with Lingle's layoff plan which will blow up state government.