BY JIM DOOLEY –
Legislators closed their 2011 session today by passing a legally questionable bill that extends pay cuts for themselves and other state executives.
Several Representatives, including House Speaker Calvin Say, said they believe Gov. Neil Abercrombie will veto the measure, causing them to reconvene in special session before July 1, 2011, to fix the bill and address other issues, including an expected budgetary shortfall caused by declining tax revenues.
Rep. Della Belatti, D- 25th (Tantalus, Makiki, McCully) said she was not opposed to the pay cut bill but called it unconstitutional.
The House received letters about defects in the bill from the state Judiciary and the Abercrombie administration, Belatti said.
“This bill, as written, will on January 1, 2014, endow upon all legislators a nearly $10,000 salary increase.
In addition, the measure would impose “a huge pay cut of upwards of $30,000″ for state judges and other government executives, Belatti said.
Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-33rd (Aiea, Halawa Valley, Halawa Heights, Aiea Heights), said he recognized “some serious legal questions” with the bill.
But he said he felt lawmakers had little choice but to vote for the bill “as a symbolic action,” adding that they would have the opportunity to amend the faulty language before it has any effect on paychecks.
Rep. Mark Takai, D- 34th (Newtown, Waiau, Pearl City, Waimalu), said he was “embarrassed” by the bill.
“We should not be debating a bill that some or most or all of us believe is constitutionally flawed,” he said.
But Takai recommended that the bill be passed on to the governor.
“I’m going to urge the governor for a veto. Because if the governor vetoes this bill then we have another crack at it,” said Takai.
“I do support the continuation of our 5 percent pay cut,” he continued.
Rep. Angus McKelvey, D-10th (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Maalaea, Kihei), called it a “hold your nose” while voting measure.
Speaker Say said flaws in the measure were inserted by senators during conference committee discussion about its language.
The House initially balked at approving the language, then reconsidered Tuesday and agreed to the changes. They finalized that vote today.
Letters pointing out legal and constitutional defects were sent to the Legislature by Rodney Maile, Administrative Director, for the state Judiciary, and Gov. Abercrombie cabinet member Sunshine Topping, who is the director of the Department of Human Resources.
Rep. Ty Cullen (District 41 – Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele, Kunia.) introduced the bill and supported its passage. “Given that our economy has not recovered fully and that we are asking government employees to take a 5% reduction in pay, we believe it is the right thing to do. The state faces a $1.3 billion deficit over the next two years, and it looks like the future projection for state revenues may be decreasing. We must all make a sacrifice in order to get through this difficult period.”
A statement issued by the House majority communication office Thursday explains that “Act 85, which passed the legislature and became law in 2009, reduced the salary levels of state legislators, justices, judges and certain executive branch positions by 5%. The Act was scheduled to sunset on June 20, 2011. HB575 extends Act 85. The extension of the salary cuts is through December 31, 2013.”
Speaker Say noted that if a special session is convened, it would probably occur after the state Council on Revenues meets May 26 issue an updated projection on expected tax revenues.
Say and others expect the Council to downgrade the revenue picture, obliging state officials to once again address resulting budget deficits.
Other unresolved issues to be addressed, said Say, include approval of legal settlements recommended by the state Attorney General as well as a requested appropriation of up to $2 million for security expenses at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference meeting here in November.