The governor orders a halt to new
discretionary spending after lawmakers
vote to override her veto of an arbitrated
raise for white-collar workers
The Hawaii Government Employees Association's 23,000 members won their 8 percent pay raise yesterday not across a bargaining table or before an arbitrator, but on the floor of the Legislature.
At 11 a.m. yesterday, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the pay raise, saying the award would cost the state $248 million over five years and that the state could not afford it.
In response, five hours later, Democrats in the Senate overrode the veto, with only the five Republicans objecting. The House Democrats were preparing to follow and also override the veto.
Lingle and the Legislature's Democratic majority continue to disagree on the viability of the state budget over the next two years. Lingle warns that the state has too much debt to afford a large pay raise for the HGEA, while Democrats say the state can weather the short-term economic problems.
"The arbitrated award was flawed, and it is unfair to the taxpayers of this state," Lingle said.
As Lingle vetoed the HGEA pay raise bill, House Bill 1043, she said she expected an override.
"They (Democrats) have the numbers, but they have to decide if they will be voting for increased deficits, they will be voting for increases in program cuts and they will be jeopardizing the long-term health of the government," Lingle said.
The Senate veto override was watched by top officials of HGEA. After the vote, Russell Okata, HGEA executive director, exclaimed, "Thank God we have some friends who are willing to say so."
Republicans characterized the veto override as a distortion of the state's $3.9 billion state budget in order to take care of the politically influential HGEA.
"This Legislature is about not what is right for the people, not what is prudent nor what is affordable, but what the HGEA wants," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai).
Lingle had warned that overriding her veto and letting the pay raises stand "knowingly brings about programs cuts" in the state budget.
Although she would not detail what programs she is thinking about trimming, Lingle announced yesterday a new series of state spending restrictions for the last two months of the current fiscal year.
"It is necessary at this time to impose an immediate spending moratorium on all spending except for nondiscretionary obligations," Lingle said in a memo to her Cabinet.
For the next two months, the state is not to buy any new furniture, equipment or supplies. Also, the state is not to start any new personal service contracts, Lingle ordered.
Lingle issued a similar freeze last year, saying she did not want the state rushing to spend money allocated but never spent in the last months of the fiscal year.
In total the Democratic majority has overturned six of Lingle's seven vetoes so far this year. The only bill on which Democrats have failed to get the needed two-thirds vote would have dropped the Compliance Resolution Fund, needed to operate the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs.
Still to be decided is a pay raise for the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the United Public Workers. The professors' pay raise is scheduled to be voted on by the Legislature before it adjourns for the year Thursday.
The UPW workers have been bargaining with Lingle but have not reached a settlement.