Someday our legislators must learn to say 'No'


POSTED: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The adults down here at the state Capitol are worried.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association may have been the first brick to fall out of labor's wall erected against the Lingle administration, but even overwhelming ratification does not mean labor peace or a balanced budget on the horizon.

The three other public unions are still running in their own orbits and none are realistically accepting a budget shortfall. This causes concern for both Gov. Linda Lingle, who still owns a perilously unbalanced state budget, and a Democrat-run state Legislature.

In some ways, settlements with HSTA and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly are a foregone conclusion because Lingle has already snipped the Department of Education and UH budgets. If the professors don't agree to the 5 percent pay cut and weakened contract, then the money will just stop flowing.

The state's educational system, its public schools and university will be a grimmer and duller place. The hope may be for educational excellence, but the reality will be about fighting to survive.

At the Capitol there is already a realization that even if the unions accepted the full-on 14 percent pay cuts that Lingle proposed in the spring, the state would still have a budget shortfall.

House Speaker Calvin Say earlier this week told me he was still worried that “;even three days a month will not address this budget.”;

That sort of realistic assessment is from one of the state's top Democrats, someone who has watched the state budget soar and who leads a Legislature that has already raised real estate, hotel and income taxes in an effort to balance the budget. Because next year is an election year the chances of lawmakers taxing their way out of the shortfall are slight.

Last year Say watched his ideas to cut state benefits for retirement and other worker costs trampled under a thundering herd of union protests. The Lingle administration came late to the game to support Say's proposals, but it would not have mattered: Say's bills could not even get out of his own House labor committee.

Obviously the state cannot spend the money it spent last year or even the money it spent in 2006, and someday the Legislature will have to find enough grownups to say “;No.”;