Blame game


POSTED: Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hawaii's public worker furloughs seem to have everyone upset.

Through the next two years Hawaii school teachers will take 34 days of unpaid furloughs and white-collar state workers will take 42 furlough days.

At the same time, the Legislature recently voted to increase taxes on cigarettes, real estate sales and income, and more tax increases loom next year.

The villain may be the state's poor economy, but Hawaii's political and labor leaders are now all blaming each other.

Gov. Linda Lingle startled other leaders on Friday when she said she goofed by allowing the school teacher furloughs and then blamed the union and Department of Education for approving them.

“;I assumed that they would do what was in the best interest of the students, and I don't think they did.

“;Looking back, I think it would have been better to stand up and say, 'Well, we just can't settle it this way,'”; Lingle said Friday as parents of hundreds of public school students rallied in the Capitol rotunda to protest furloughs.

Wil Okabe, Hawaii State Teachers Association president, yesterday shot back saying furloughs were Lingle's idea as was the 14 percent DOE budget cut that prompted them.

“;Let's be honest. The governor got the furloughs ... she asked for. And now the community is angry, she wants to point the finger at others,”; Okabe said.

Other union leaders and state officials are saying the state is in a leadership vacuum.

“;A lot of the animosity and frustration targeted at us right now should be targeted back at the Legislature and the governor,”; says Garrett Toguchi, Board of Education chairman.

Toguchi questioned why the lawmakers haven't held a hearing on ways to improve the state's economy and says Lingle should have named a “;economic task force or economy czars.”;

“;They are all sitting around doing nothing while state agencies have to handle what they were dealt,”; Toguchi said.

Randy Perreira, the Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, was also critical of the state's leaders.

Too many lawmakers, Perreira said are only interested in their own re-election or the next political opportunity, and are not thinking long-term.

“;The Legislature has been unable to make the hard decision ... At a certain time you have to face up to and do what you have to because you have a broader perspective, longer-term vision and community involvement,”; Perreira said.

On Friday, House Speaker Rep. Calvin Say said the public and others should be patient and wait for the Legislature during the 2010 session to look at the problems caused by furloughs.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa added that it “;insults the public”; to promise a quick solution.

“;If there was a plan and everybody was on board, then it would be a no-brainer, but that is not the case,”; Hanabusa said.