Keep budget-cut options open, Lingle tells politicians, unions


POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Facing a budget deficit expected to get worse, Gov. Linda Lingle held a budget summit conference yesterday with legislative leaders from the state House and Senate and the heads of the public worker unions, but participants said they were “;disappointed”; that Lingle had no specific plans.

Lingle has said she is considering some reductions in state worker salaries and furloughing employees plus various cuts to state programs and general reductions in state expenditures, but has not given details.

“;We are looking for the making of a financial plan. The financial mess we are in was not caused by Gov. Lingle or the Legislature; it was caused by factors beyond our control,”; said Randy Perreira, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, who attended yesterday's meeting.

“;But nobody wants to make the really hard decisions on how we are going to bring this economy around,”; Perreira said.

Others at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, said legislators had asked Lingle to “;price out”; various plans to cut the budget, but that she has not yet done it.

“;Everybody in the meeting was flabbergasted by it,”; one participant said.

Lingle was not available for comment after the meeting.

“;We said we need guidance and leadership, and all she said was, 'You have given me a lot to think about,'”; one participant said.

Another participant legislator thought that Lingle wanted them to come up with suggested ways of cutting the budget before she made her own proposals.

Lingle submitted a budget in December, but the Council on Revenues has since cut the state tax collection projections. That action caused the budget to be further out of balance and increased the state's deficit. Lingle says the budget is expected to decline further when the Council on Revenues meets again in March, and she has so far declined to put a price tag on any specific plan of action.

Following her annual State of the State speech, Lingle said she planned to convene the mayors of Honolulu, Kauai, Maui County and the Big Island in one meeting to talk about the impact of the state's massive budget deficit on the counties, including collective bargaining for government employees.

The plan for a single gathering was scrapped, according to Lingle's office, because Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann could not meet at several proposed times. According to Hannemann's office, the governor could not meet on a date that would work for all the mayors.

Lingle has already met with Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho. She will meet with Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi this afternoon. There is no scheduled meeting with Hannemann yet.

“;The topic of collective bargaining was raised, but nothing substantive was discussed. There was simply an acknowledgment that serious and focused discussions on the matter would be taking place in the coming months that will include all the mayors and the governor,”; a spokesman for Carvalho said.