says HGEA asking
The state can't afford theBy Richard Borreca
union's 'very large' pay
increases, he says
After getting a "verbal briefing" on the arbitrated results of bargaining between the state and Hawaii's largest public employees union, Gov. Ben Cayetano says the state can't afford it.
"I don't see how the legislature can afford pay raises," Cayetano told reporters yesterday.
The governor and the unions have declined to say how much of a pay raise was recommended by the three-member arbitration panel, but Cayetano, who offered no raises for the next four years, says the increases "are very large."
According to state law, the Hawaii Government Employees Association cannot strike, but is bound by the terms of the arbitrated settlement with the state.
Cayetano said he is required to submit the settlement to the Legislature for approval, but doesn't like it and will veto any tax increases to pay for it.
Cayetano extended his veto threat to any legislative proposals to cancel planned future cuts in the state excise tax.
The legislature does not have to approve the pay increase and in the past has rejected or postponed it.
Legislators also are concerned about the costs of the HGEA and future arbitrated settlements.
State and county firefighters agreements are also due this month, and union officials speculate that firefighters will also get pay raises.
Yesterday, Russell Okata, HGEA executive director, called Cayetano's comments "inappropriate." He said the union is asking for a four-year contract.
There would be no raises or pay increases for step movements for the first two years, but the third years would have a 4 percent increase and 5 percent in the final year, with step movements in both the third and fourth years, according to the HGEA proposal.
Sen. Robert Nakata, chairman of the labor committee, says the pending arbitration report "raises the question of how effective the state is in presenting its case."
Cayetano insists the state did all it could in arguing its case before the panel and that the law should be changed to do away with the panel altogether and let unions strike if they can't reach agreement with the state.
The Senate favors arbitration, while the House agrees with the governor and passed a bill to repeal the mandatory arbitration panel.
"We are trying to get off this business," Dwight Takamine, House Finance committee chairman, said.
Although declining to comment on the proposed wage settlement, Takamine hinted that the legislature might need to see several months more of economic growth before agreeing to any wage increases.
So, he said, one course of action would be to postpone any pay raises until next year.
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