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Wednesday, January 17, 2001

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
New Senate President Robert Bunda addresses
legislators at today's opening.

Money talks

The Legislature opens today with
discussions about dollars for aging
schools and the economy

2001 Legislature

Senate President | Senate Minority
House Speaker | House Minority

By Richard Borreca

At the state Capitol this morning, Hawaii's Legislature opened with its leaders calling for support for education and the economy.

Few major new programs were spelled out, however, as the ruling Democrats urged a conservative course, stressing investment in school repairs and high technology.

Republicans called for cutting the excise tax on food, medical expenses and rent and also for increasing the responsibility of individual schools to deliver a quality public school education.

There was little discussion of the threatened public school strikes by teachers and University of Hawaii faculty; however, most legislative leaders did support the arbitrated contract with the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Legislature Directory
Hawaii Revised Statutes
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Gov. Ben Cayetano has said he doesn't recognize the HGEA award and will veto it if the Legislature approves a bill paying the nearly 15 percent raise to Hawaii white-collar public workers.

"We have contracts that have been agreed to -- or do we?" asked Sen. Robert Bunda, the new Senate president.

"Well, let me tell you, if we want to restore public confidence in government, we should find the means to live up to our end of the bargain," he said.

Republican leader Sen. Sam Slom likened the award to a promise not kept.

"If a lawmaker, a legislative body, a Cabinet official or a governor, makes a promise to teachers, native Hawaiians, union members, environmentalists, small business, or special education children and their parents, we must keep our promises to each and every one," Slom said.

House leaders, Speaker Calvin Say and newly elected GOP leader Rep. Galen Fox, didn't mention the state's labor negotiations in their speeches, but Say has previously said his Democrats would honor the pay award, if they could.

Meanwhile, Say and Bunda sounded as if they were on the same page, if not the same line, with their suggestions for fixing Hawaii's rundown schools that need more than $600 million in repairs.

Bunda called for spending $100 million to start work on the problem.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Dick Nagamine from the House Sergeant at Arms office
arranges flowers for today's opening ceremony.

"Every school in every community across our state will benefit from this funding. And I say to my colleagues, every one of your districts will benefit from this funding," Bunda promised.

Say also recognized the problem but called for a joint state task force to better coordinate school repairs.

On social service issues, Say repeated his call for legalizing some form of gambling with the state profits to be used to fund long-term care programs.

The speaker, however, has already acknowledged that the gambling bill has no chance of passing this year's Legislature.

He also called for an unspecified increase to the state's minimum wage and agreed with portions of Gov. Cayetano's plans to relocate the University of Hawaii medical school to Kakaako.

In the Senate, Bunda supported wage increases for Hawaii's schoolteachers, pointing to a recent Honolulu Star-Bulletin poll that showed the public is in favor of raising teacher salaries.

The Republicans served up a long list of plans and projects, ranging from Slom's call for "autonomy for our public schools and teachers" and "recognition, compensation, continuing education and tuition assistance for classroom teachers."

House Republican leader Fox said his party wants to "elevate principals to CEO status, with more autonomy and substantially higher pay. In exchange, the principals would work under limited term, performance-based contracts they negotiate with the districts."

Democrat Cayetano, Fox said, first made the proposal when he was lieutenant governor.

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