Thursday, June 17, 1999

Scrimping on school
repairs is shortsighted

Bullet The issue: The Legislature has provided less money for capital improvements, repairs and maintenance in the public schools.
Bullet Our view: It's more important to provide safe playground equipment than to fund raises for government employees.

THE Department of Education has instructed the elementary schools to remove unsafe playground equipment as part of a nationwide effort to meet new safety standards and avoid lawsuits. About 200,000 children are injured and 10 to 20 die every year in the United States in playground accidents related to unsafe equipment.

The problem is there is no money budgeted to pay for new equipment. The schools may have to raise their own funds or take the money out of current budgets. The DOE's Superintendent Paul LeMahieu may ask the Legislature for funding next year, but there may be difficulties if money is still tight.

This is only one of the school system's problems related to physical needs. Lester Chuck, the DOE's facilities director, said funds for capital improvement projects, as well as repair and maintenance, have dropped significantly.

The Legislature approved $111 million for capital improvements, down from $150 million. Funding for repair and maintenance dropped from $26 million three years ago to $9.6 million. Chuck commented, "There will be more situations where we can't even repair the emergency things."

Back in the Waihee administration the Star-Bulletin campaigned for more money for school repairs, and the Legislature responded. Now the situation seems worse than ever. It's irresponsible to ignore these needs.

Yet the Legislature had no qualms about funding pay raises for state and county government employees, fulfilling a pledge made by Governor Cayetano during his re-election campaign. Why? Government workers vote. Parents of school-age children may not.

Now an arbitration panel has added to the counties' fiscal burden by awarding police officers what amounts to a 15 percent raise ($26.5 million) over four years. The panel's head, Robert Steinberg, a California attorney, rejected Mayor Harris' contention that the city can't afford to raise police pay.

Steinberg said the city should increase real property tax rates to pay for the increase -- a suggestion that isn't likely to go down well with property owners.

Because the state has enacted a law banning collective bargaining raises for government employees for two years, the police union may have to go to court to force the counties to comply with the arbitration award.

However, the city seems to be willing to go along. City Council Budget Chairwoman Rene Mansho said the Council would find the $1.1 million needed for the first year's raises, looking first at the Police Department's budget. Managing Director Ben Lee urged Police Chief Lee Donohue to look at ways to cut programs in order to offset the cost.

The fact that police officers are leaving for better-paying jobs on the mainland gives the police a strong argument for making their pay competitive. But having an arbitration panel make the decision when the city is under severe fiscal constraints is inappropriate.

Judicial pay raises
were long overdue

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano has signed into law judicial pay raises after legislators reduced pension benefits for judges.
Bullet Our view: Future raises will not be saddled with the controversy over pensions.

SALARIES for state judges will rise next month after a decade-long freeze that left them among the lowest paid in the country. The low pay and a pension plan that encouraged early retirement had caused an exodus from the bench. The new salaries, along with a more sensible pension system, should help correct the problem.

Hawaii salaries now range from $81,780 for district judges to $94,780 for the chief justice. Despite Hawaii's high cost of living, pay for Supreme Court justices last year ranked 39th among the 50 states. Trial judges' pay ranked 36th.

Judges leaving the bench have cited low pay as the reason, but the enticement of an early pension has to have been a factor. Judges have become eligible for retirement benefits after only 10 years on the job, regardless of their age at retirement.

That benefit package has been a comfortable supplement for judges wishing to return to private law practice.

Governor Cayetano vetoed previous judicial pay-raise legislation because the Legislature had left the pension benefits unchanged. He was correct in his insistence that pay increases be tied to a change in the retirement system.

This year's Legislature agreed to Cayetano's condition, requiring judges to have accumulated either 25 years of service or five years after age 55 before they become eligible for retirement benefits. The governor accordingly signed into law pay raises of 4 percent this year and 4 percent next year.

The Legislature had intended a 22 percent increase over the two-year period, but flaws in the legislation will make it necessary for them to approve retroactive increases in the next session. With the problem of the overly generous pension system resolved, legislators should approve raises periodically as warranted.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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