'Rain' fund raid right choice


POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle rejected calls earlier this year that education be given priority over other state budget items. Noticing the explosive response from afar during a trip to Asia, Lingle has rightly reversed her position and agrees now to use “;rainy day”; money to end the Furlough Friday scheme already under way.

We agreed from the beginning of the budget crisis with Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the state Board of Education, that the Lingle administration give education special attention. Lingle instead subjected all areas of state government to the same budgetary goals.

Lingle said over the weekend that she now plans to ask for legislative approval to tap the rainy day fund so 12 of the 27 Furlough Fridays scheduled for next year at Hawaii public schools can be eliminated. The other 15 school days would be restored by including schoolchildren in the classrooms on 15 days that had been intended for teacher training instead of instruction. Four Furlough Fridays will remain scheduled for this year.

The governor also said she will agree to call a special session of the Legislature if its leaders report a consensus of agreement within the House and Senate, which looks likely. That would eliminate the need for the issue to be subjected to the time-consuming and argumentative process of obtaining committee approval in each chamber.

Rancor could occur in a regular session because of the collateral damage from the dip into the rainy day fund. Lingle said she will ask that $50 million of the estimated $60 million in the fund be spent on eliminating the Furlough Fridays.

The fund consists of 24.5 percent of the $53 million given to the state each year in compliance with the 1998 national settlement with tobacco companies. Some legislators have called recently for using some of the money in the rainy day fund to restore monthly payments to poor, temporarily disabled people. Those payments fell last month from $450 to $300 because of the state budget shortfall. The number of recipients has risen from 3,955 in 2007 to 4,458 last year and 5,055 today.

Other needy residents of Hawaii may have similar desires of access to the rainy day fund. And furloughed employees in other offices of state government may resent the lowering of teachers' pay cuts from 7.9 percent to 5.5 percent with the elimination of furloughs.

Although the Hawaii State Teachers Association naturally supports the elimination of furloughs and the partial restoration of wages, the end of furloughs is not aimed at helping teachers.

It is a proposal needed to keep children in school and actively learning.

It is proposal to start pulling Hawaii's system out of a deep hole that holds little hope for federal educational-incentive funds.

It is a proposal in response to parents' legitimate uproar, an uproar heard all the way to China — and back.