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Thursday, January 18, 2001

Legislative leaders
support HGEA award

Bullet The issue: House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda want the Legislature to fund the 15 percent pay increases for HGEA members awarded by an arbitrator.
Bullet Our view: The Legislature will do battle with the governor over this issue.

OPENING-day speeches at the Legislature confirmed indications that Governor Cayetano has a fight on his hands over the arbitrated contract award with the Hawaii Government Employees Association providing nearly 15 percent raises for white-collar workers.

Cayetano maintains that the award lost its validity when the Legislature failed to fund it last year. He threatens to veto a bill granting the raises if the Legislature passes it.

But Senate President Robert Bunda clearly disagreed with the governor. "If we want to restore public confidence in government," Bunda said, "we should find the means to live up to our end of the bargain."

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom chimed in by saying lawmakers and other government officials should keep their promises -- implicitly referring to the HGEA award.

On the House side, Speaker Calvin Say didn't mention state labor negotiations in his remarks but has said in the past that the Democrats would honor the arbitrator's award. Thus the leadership in both houses has placed itself in opposition to the governor on this issue.

More conflict over labor's demands could ensue with the teachers' union and the University of Hawaii faculty union talking strike and the state administration holding firm against big increases.

The Senate president also spoke supportively of the teachers' vital role in shaping the state's youth and their need for better compensation -- again in seeming defiance of the governor. And he said Cayetano's proposal to spend $50 million a year on school repairs was insufficient. He proposed to double spending to $100 million a year.

The House speaker repeated his call for legalized gambling, an issue that is raised annually but thus far with no success. Say justified it by proposing to commit the state's gambling revenue to financing long-term care. But he has acknowledged that gambling has no chance to win passage this year. As we have repeatedly stated, gambling should not be legalized here because it would cause more problems than it would solve.

The governor got support from an unexpected source when Slom declared Republican approval of his efforts to reform the civil service laws and reduce excessive benefits for government employees, particularly retirees.

Cayetano deserves it. Something has to be done to preserve the state's solvency.

For example, the current law providing for state payment of all health insurance premiums for life for government retirees and their spouses must be revised or it could bankrupt the state when the baby boomers retire.

Cayetano got a plug from House Republican Leader Galen Fox, who advocated elevating school principals' status, giving them more autonomy and higher pay. In exchange they would work under performance-based contracts negotiated with school districts. Fox said Cayetano first made the proposal when he was lieutenant governor.

The gains made by Republicans in the November elections give them a larger presence in the Legislature than at any previous time since statehood. Their perennial efforts to abolish the excise tax on food, drugs and rent will continue in the new session and may actually make some headway.

Meanwhile the Democratic majority is at odds on major issues with the governor.

Even though the state's fiscal condition is far better than it has been since the early 1990s, this should be another contentious session.

Court decision is blow
to Taiwan’s president

Bullet The issue: Taiwan's highest court has rejected President Chen Shui-bian's decision to halt construction of a nuclear power plant.
Bullet Our view: The president should accept defeat on this issue and the Nationalists, who control the legislature, should cooperate with him on other matters.

TAIWAN'S shaky political balance was jolted last October when President Chen Shui-bian ordered a halt to construction of a $5.5 billion nuclear power plant. Construction of the plant had been authorized by the previous Nationalist Party government, which had been ousted by Chen's election victory last March. Chen had campaigned against the plant, arguing that it was unnecessary and would create environmental hazards.

Despite Chen's victory, the Nationalists retained control of the legislature. Indignant over the president's order and the circumstances under which it was announced -- minutes after Chen had met with the Nationalist leader, who had urged him to postpone a decision, and without consulting the legislature -- they threatened to oust him from office. Chen subsequently apologized to the Nationalist leader in a televised address, but the opposition was not mollified and began a campaign to recall the president. But the campaign was abandoned when it became clear that public opinion was opposed.

Now the dispute has been further complicated by a decision by Taiwan's highest court that the government acted improperly in halting the nuclear power plant project. The judges said that before scrapping the project the government should have sought the legislature's approval.

If a majority of the legislature voted to resume work, the two sides should work out their differences, the judges said. That won't be easy. The plant is one issue in a broader battle between Chen and the Nationalists.

The court decision should prompt the president to retreat on the nuclear issue, painful though it may be. In turn the Nationalists should adopt a more cooperative posture toward the president. After more than half a century of total Nationalist domination, Taiwan must learn to live with divided government.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Acting 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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