State’s leaders are
due a pay increase


A new commission begins work on setting pay levels for the state's top officials.

THE last time the state's top government leaders got a pay raise was during the presidency of George Bush -- the elder one. The notion of true public service notwithstanding, increases in salaries for cabinet appointees, lieutenant governor and governor are overdue.

Taxpayers and voters won't likely consent to huge June Jones-type boosts for Hawaii's highest-level public workers, and financial limitations can never allow government salaries to equal those in the private sector. However, compensation should be sufficient to spur well-qualified individuals to manage our vital affairs.

A few weeks after she assumed the governorship, Linda Lingle proposed that a commission review and set pay levels for department directors as well as her job. Lingle contended that noncompetitive pay hindered her ability to attract strong candidates to fill cabinet posts.

Although they had rebuffed proposals from her predecessor, Ben Cayetano, for a salary commission to review pay levels, legislators earlier this year approved Lingle's plan to create an independent panel to set compensation for the state's top executives. Any increases would be the first in 14 years.

The five-member Executive Salary Commission, appointed by House Speaker Calvin Say, Senate President Robert Bunda and Chief Justice Ronald Moon, will present its recommendations to the 2004 Legislature and, in a kind of reverse approval, the panel's numbers will stand unless both houses reject them by resolution. The process is similar to that by which legislative salaries were raised in March -- from the present $32,000 a session to $34,200 in 2005 and to $40,000 in 2012 -- when lawmakers had the opportunity to disallow them, but didn't.

Cabinet members now earn $85,302 a year while the lieutenant governor and the governor's chief of staff make $90,041. The governor herself collects $94,780 annually, but the job comes with room, board and transportation. Still, she makes considerably less than Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, who gets about $112,000 a year, and about the same as Maui's mayor at $96,000.

The commission's mechanism is set up so that Lingle herself would not see an increase in her paycheck unless she wins a second term. However, department heads and her aides could get more starting July 1.

The governor says she will not suggest specific dollar amounts to commission members, but "will describe to them the work that we do and ask them to do a fair appraisal."

When she proposed increases last year, Lingle said recruiting cabinet members was tough. "Most of the top people that I talk to, on a bad year they're making a quarter of a million dollars" in the private sector, she said. While the governor should not expect salaries at those levels, the men and women who taxpayers depend on to lead the state should make enough money to compensate for the long hours and the public exposure that come with the territory.



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