Friday, April 9, 1999

Blocking raises for
government workers

Bullet The issue: A bill before the Legislature would block pay raises for government employees for four years.
Bullet Our view: In the current weak economy, government raises can't be justified.

EVIDENCE that the Legislature is feeling the heat of the state's fiscal problems comes in the form of a proposal to block pay raises for state and county workers for the next four years.

The proposal, introduced by House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine and sponsored by Speaker Calvin Say, would entail amending the collective bargaining law and would cover all new contracts between the state and public employee unions.

Say called the proposal "a way to try to manage government spending without layoffs." He called the proposal a prudent one in view of the income tax cut that could reduce revenues by $50-$100 million over four years.

Gary Rodrigues, state director of the United Public Workers union, contends that the proposal is unconstitutional. If enacted, the measure could be tied up in the courts should the unions fight it.

However, Governor Cayetano has declared that the state will offer no increases in forthcoming contract talks. The governor said that if raises were required by arbitrators, the administration would make cuts in the work force to offset the additional expense. If Cayetano maintains that position, no legislation will be necessary to accomplish the proposal's objective.

In any case, the Legislature always has the option of rejecting a negotiated contract. There is no legal obstacle to that course of action, although it has never been done. The only obstacle is political. It would take courage to stand up to the unions.

In fact, the lawmakers should refuse to fund previously negotiated raises now moving through the Legislature that would cost the state about $166 million next year. But Cayetano promised to fund the increases and the Legislature seems to be going along.

The UPW's Rodrigues complains that the Legislature is trying to balance the budget at the employees' expense. The unions should acknowledge that their members can't expect raises when the state can't afford them.

There are many worthy programs that have to be cut if the budget is to be balanced. Raising government employees' pay under these conditions could be accomplished only by raising taxes -- which would be a huge mistake -- or by crippling important programs.

In a weak economy, the public worker unions can't expect business as usual.

Federal hate crime
law is unnecessary

Bullet The issue: Extension of federal hate-crime legislation to include sex, sexual orientation or disability
Bullet Our view: State law is adequate to deal with these crimes

PRESIDENT Clinton took on an easy target when he decried so-called hate crimes, but his remedy -- to make a federal case out of them -- is wrong.

Of course it is despicable to attack persons because of their race, color, religion or national origin. Current federal law provides for prosecution of such acts. Of course it is despicable to attack persons based on sex, sexual orientation or disability. Clinton proposes to expand the law to cover such cases.

But where is the need for a federal role? In announcing his hate-crime proposals, Clinton failed to mention the outcome of recent trials for two widely publicized crimes. In Texas, a white supremacist was sentenced to death for the dragging murder of a black man. In Wyoming, a man received two life sentences for the murder of a homosexual college student. Both convictions were obtained under state laws.

These were undoubtedly hate crimes, and gruesome ones. But the culprits were handled effectively under state law. What more could a federal hate-crime law have accomplished? Why do we need one at all?

The president tried to bolster his case by citing the crisis in Kosovo, in which thousands of ethnic Albanians are being killed or forced from their homes. He warned against the "persistence of old, even primitive hatreds" such as those fueling the conflict in Kosovo.

True enough, but the real need is to educate youth against intolerance -- not more federal laws that overlap state statutes. The states can handle these crimes. Federal intrusion is unnecessary.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his annual report on the federal courts in January, cautioned against the trend of extending federal prosecutions. He decried "the pressure in Congress to appear responsive to every highly publicized societal ill or sensational crime" even if the states are performing adequately in addressing the problem. The same warning could be addressed to the president, who is promoting the extension of hate-crime laws.

The very concept of punishment based on the assailant's animosity for a particular group is questionable. A murder committed out of hatred for blacks or homosexuals is neither better nor worse than one committed with some other motive. It's still murder. Government should prosecute crimes on the basis of the acts themselves, not the identity of the victims.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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