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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Public worker pay is
the only issue in 2001

WITHOUT even meeting, the 2001 Legislature is already in danger.

The upcoming session will be trickier than most. There is only one issue this session: the pay raise for public employees.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has done a masterful job of constructing a negotiations strategy to drive the public labor talks.

Essentially, Cayetano is hammering down the big 14 percent wage increases won in arbitration earlier this year by the Hawaii Government Employees Association. In place of that raise, Cayetano is offering to look at a more modest raise, say half as much, for all the unions.

The catch is unions aren't likely to get even that increase unless there is some help in the contract on civil service reform. Cayetano wants the unions to concede portions of their contract. The governor argues that moving the contract would help the state.

All that is Part A of the plan. Part B is to construct a state budget filled with new help for the state education system.

Cayetano truly wants to be the education governor. The new state budget, he is telling fellow Democrats, will be "a Marshall Plan for the schools," referring to the way America helped rebuild Europe after World War II. New computers, new classrooms, more maintenance and early education and intervention programs are all being readied.

The two-handed game plan allows Cayetano to argue that state workers will have to help reorganize state government in return for pay raises; besides the school rescue mission, much of the money is already spoken for.

Into that grinder tumbles the state Legislature, which has organized itself into a strong, pro-labor House and Senate.

With Rep. Dwight Takamine as finance chairman and Rep. Marcus Oshiro as Democratic leader in the House, and with Sen. Colleen Hanabusa calling many of the shots in the Senate, the unions have plenty of friends in high places.

The legislators, however, are already entangled by their election promises to pay the arbitrated HGEA pay raises.

The unions stood by the incumbents in September and November and they expect the lawmakers to be just as close in January when the HGEA asks for its money.

The argument will be extended that if the white-collar HGEA can get 14 percent, the equally deserving blue-collar United Public Workers and the teachers should get the same.

It is an argument that the leaders in the House and Senate will certainly understand.

The situation gets dicey because the losing faction in the Senate, so-called moderate Democrats, have a natural ally with the outspoken ex-leader in the House, Democratic Rep. Ed Case.

He argues that the state can't give pay raises without getting union concessions.

The final element in the mix is the group of 19 House Republicans.

The 58 percent increase in GOP House members means Speaker Calvin Say will have to be twice as quick to count his votes correctly, or face some embarrassing afternoons on the House floor.

The numbers also mean that the public employee unions will have an extra argument to make to convince the House to go along with the big increases.

Cayetano and Case aren't likely to link up with the GOP, but the potential for instability makes the session the most uncertain in years.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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