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StarBulletin.com

Senator guided furlough accord


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POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Saturday meeting with state Sen. Brian Taniguchi helped persuade Gov. Linda Lingle to push a compromise offer to solve the Furlough Friday dilemma.

In an interview yesterday, Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, said he wanted to get Lingle to hold a special legislative session but also raise taxes to pay public school teachers enough to cancel the remaining furlough days.

Although Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa) could only sell the special session idea, he said he still hopes Lingle will look at a half-percentage-point increase to the general excise tax.

Lingle is proposing canceling the 2010-2011 furlough days by using 15 noninstruction days when teachers were paid but did not teach classes and paying for the remaining 12 furlough days with money from the state rainy day fund.

Lingle previously balked at using any special fund money to pay teachers' salaries. Using the rainy day fund will require approval from the Legislature, which would have to meet in a session lasting at least five days.

At her Sunday news conference, Lingle said she listened to Taniguchi's pitch to act now instead of waiting for the 2010 Legislature to convene in January.

“;He made some really good points that I discussed with my team,”; Lingle said. “;I felt he made a really compelling case.”;

She did not mention that Taniguchi had asked for a tax increase as a compromise.

Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, said she was not at the meeting and could not confirm the conversation. Lingle is in Texas attending a Republican governors conference and was unavailable for comment.

Because he was also chairman of a special Senate committee reviewing the effects of the teacher furloughs, Taniguchi said he was hoping to get in to see Lingle as soon as she returned from China last week.

“;I wanted to ask her how she wanted to deal with this. I thought the state looked pretty bad, and if we waited until the session, it would just get worse,”; Taniguchi said.

In his meeting, Taniguchi pitched three plans: Wait until January, call a special session now and put together a financial patch, or go for a tax overhaul that included eliminating the furloughs.

“;I basically talked about a tax increase, but I knew that philosophically she would not go for it. But she did not dismiss it,”; Taniguchi said, adding that he thought Lingle would have an easier time dealing with just the legislative leaders in a special session.

“;This way, she can deal with it in a focused manner. If you wait until the session, there are other budget matters, and she will have to deal with the House and Senate money committees.

“;I think that intrigued her,”; Taniguchi said.

“;This was my one shot. She didn't tell me she would do it, but she said she did like the idea of going now,”; Taniguchi added.

Since Lingle's Sunday announcement, there has been little on-the-record progress in shaping the type of bill the special legislative session would adopt. Smith said yesterday that the state's labor bargaining team was meeting to put together a plan and then touching base with the Department of Education before bringing something to the unions.

On Sunday Lingle said she was looking to change the labor contracts of both the teachers union and the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

“;What I'm hoping for from the unions and from the legislators is that they give it serious consideration, that they really think about it, that they explore the alternatives, (that) they line up what would be the possible options and if they recognize that for right now this is the very best solution,”; Lingle said Sunday.