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Legislators muff an easy play by hanging onto pay hikes


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POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

Here's how to pitch against the state Legislature: Just roll it over home plate, they are going to miss anyway.

I know nothing about baseball, but I know legislators have been served up a slow pitch with the issue of their 36 percent pay raise. Not only are they trying to miss it, they are trying to strike out.

As Hawaii's economy tanked even before the session started, House Speaker Calvin Say urged fellow Democrats to somehow repeal or cancel their big pay raises.

Didn't happen. Say couldn't even move the issue to the House floor for a vote. Meanwhile, leaders in the Senate started rummaging through their law books to buttress their position in favor of taking the money.

They say the state Constitution was amended by the people to create a salary commission (the amendment was thought up by the Legislature) and the commissioners, chosen by legislative leaders, recommended the raise (but didn't tell anybody about it until it went into effect), so now the Legislature draws 36 percent more, while every other state worker is looking at a pay cut.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann was akamai enough to get far away from that by foregoing any pay raises and instead serving up pay cuts for himself and his cabinet.

In December, Gov. Linda Lingle tried to cut the executive and legislative pay increases, only to be told by the Senate leadership that “;the people have spoken”; and what was ordered up by the salary commission was written in stone.

Now Lingle is trying again with suggested amendments to a bill, Senate Bill 1536, that would bring executive and judicial pay raises back to July 2008 levels. The pay cuts would chop up the state executive and judicial pay raises, but nothing about that sweet 36 percent raise already coursing through the checkbooks of the legislative 76.

Lingle is asking legislators to at least forgo their July 2010 raises until 2012.

The administration is also asking that if state workers wind up getting a pay cut “;the salaries of executive, judicial and legislative members be reduced by the average percentage decrease negotiated by collective bargaining for state employees.”;

Last week the Senate Ways and Means Committee took testimony on this and started worrying about: How much more they could cut? How would this make them look like everyone else? Or, how would this affect worker morale?

Nope, they wanted to know what this would do to their pensions and why didn't Lingle know last year that they should cut pay.

So if someone tells you, “;Take the money and run,”; it really means “;Take the money and run for the Legislature.”;

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)