As labor unions and progressives take turns pounding on Governor Ige for his decision to furlough public workers, Hawaii’s legislative leaders watch safely and ever so quietly on the sidelines.
House Speaker Saiki, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, Senate President Kouchi, and Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz could fix the problem if they wanted to.
But yet they stay quiet, hiding in the politically safe space wedged between support and opposition. Like so often is the case, they straddle the middle ground while wringing their hands and bemoaning the situation.
One would think that someone at the top in the House or Senate would have said by now, “Not on my watch.” But instead, all we get are crickets.
The legislature has both the responsibility and the legal authority to change the tax laws and raise the funds needed to protect these workers and the valuable services they provide.
The reality is they should have called for a special session months ago in anticipation of the budget and other emergency needs brought about by COVID.
Fortunately, some individual legislators have begun to speak out opposing the proposed furloughs and the accompanying austerity mindset. House/Senate leadership however has remained silent preferring it seems to watch the Governor twist in the wind, sidestepping their responsibility and framing the issue as one that’s between the governor and the unions.
If our legislative leadership continues to remain silent, they are as much to blame for the furloughs as the governor. If they support and value public workers, they should say so, and announce now their willingness to increase revenue and avoid furloughs.
Cutting valuable public services to balance the budget is a bad idea. Anyone thinking this can be accomplished without negative tangible impacts to health, environment, and education is fooling themselves.
We are talking about the men and women who protect our health and environment, process our permits, clean our parks, pave our roads, and provide essential social services to the neediest in our community.
Teachers are included in these furloughs. Teachers are already woefully underpaid. We ask them to put themselves in COVID high-risk situations teaching our keiki in person. Then we ask them to learn a whole new way of teaching electronically. Because of their dedication and commitment, they do it all and more, and now this is how we show our appreciation?
Our children need more teachers in the classroom, not less. Our economy depends on government civil service workers to process professional and construction permits and applications. Health and environmental protection require people to do the testing and reviews needed to ensure safety.
The convenient sound-bite of “Everyone must be willing to sacrifice a little,” ignores the fact that when public workers are furloughed that “sacrifice” is magnified and reverberates through all sectors of society as necessary services are reduced or eliminated.
Cutting the days on the job by approximately 10% means a reduction in services by an equal amount. As we exit the pandemic, we need our government services infrastructure more than ever to be up to full speed or better.
There are MANY ways to raise the revenue needed, but all require legislative action and cannot be accomplished by the governor alone.
For starters, here are 8 different funding options from the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center that could easily close the gap in funding being used to justify public employee furloughs. (https://www.hibudget.org/blog/eight-progressive-ways-to-raise-revenue-hawaii-covid-19) These new funding sources total over $600 million and none of these funding options significantly impact middle or low-income local residents.
In addition to these 8, there are many more possible funding sources that could be added to the list, not the least of which are cannabis and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The legalization of cannabis for responsible adult use generates $300 million annually in tax revenue for Colorado. For Hawaii’s legislative leadership to continue delaying what most believe is inevitable is beyond comprehension.
The $100 million budget of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) must also be put on the chopping block. State Funds derived from the transient accommodations tax (TAT) should be used to support public services and public workers. The Hawaii Tourism Authority provides many valuable services, however, tourism marketing money should come directly from the industry that benefits. #defundHTA
The Governor cannot make any of these 10 ideas a reality on his own. He doesn’t have the power to actually introduce and pass legislation. Only the legislature can do this.
While awaiting the implementation of these various revenue measures, the Federal Reserve is an available source for super low-interest borrowing of up to $2.13 billion.
The 2021 legislative session will soon be upon us. Unfortunately, legislative leaders are already telegraphing a fear-driven “austerity mindset” indicating that “tightening the belt” is in order. While the rich on Wall Street get richer and local real estate booms with prices at an all-time high – our legislative leadership tells the rest of us to suck it up and tighten our belts.
There are many paths to increased abundance for all of us and our State Legislature needs to begin thinking with that goal in mind. The time of the pandemic will soon pass and the pent-up demand will cause our economy to come roaring back.
We need our legislative leaders to rise to the occasion and start putting working people, public and private, first on the agenda.