Which Services Would You Cut?

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - March 25, 2009
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You know what’s the real stickler in overcoming the huge budget shortfalls - maybe $1 billion for the state over three years and $95 million for the city this coming fiscal year?

It’s the discrepancy between what you say you want and what you really want. You say you don’t want any new taxes or fees, but what you really want is some magic touch to keep every service going without paying any more.

Remember April 19, 1994, when 13,000 state and county workers went on strike? You said you felt they didn’t deserve that big a pay raise. Then you discovered you couldn’t record your real estate transactions, the libraries were closed and so were city golf courses, and you couldn’t even get swift action on your unemployment claims.

You were willing to concede and pay to get those services back.


 

Remember the 20-day teachers’ strike in April of 2001? You agreed with state negotiators that the time had come to put the public foot down on 16 percent raises.

Then you discovered that there was nobody to take care of the kids while you worked. You conceded and gave the 16 percent pay raise plus a $1,100 bonus as part of a salary package that cost the state (you) about $112 million.

You indicated that binding arbitration in public-employee salary disputes wasn’t working because the arbitrators always give the raises. But when then-Gov. Ben Cayetano said, “Let’s end it and return to the strike,” you said (through your legislators), “No, best we keep it.” So we still have it.

In the current crisis, you say the governor, the Legislature and the city need to cut back rather than raise taxes and fees. But you scream if they cut back something you like.

We could live quite well with one garbage pickup a week, couldn’t we? So what if the grass grows a little long in the parks or some piece of playground equipment isn’t fixed the moment it breaks? So what if libraries operate only every other day? Or if real estate transactions are only recorded Monday, Wednesday and Friday?

You simply cannot have every one of your pet social programs in operation if you’re serious about not raising taxes and fees.

Our priorities have to be reordered: Very essential health and social services, but many outreach programs will have to go into suspension. My read on them has been too much “in front door, out back” but little evidence they’re not just passing off clients to some other outreach program.

Essential public safety: Yes, get rid of those horse patrols; don’t worry about safety-sticker stops right now. Essential (and I do mean essential) state and county services: The governor and the mayor must chop back all the “like to have” services. You’ll scream - “M’god, no car registration today?!” - but you’ll survive.

The governor and the mayor need to get a little deaf to your screams for a while. Oh, I almost forgot, they’re both hunting for higher offices.

I’d love one of their jobs in this crisis. You could scream and bitch and un-elect me next go-round. That’s fine with me, but I’d close that budget gap really fast! And scorch the Legislature or City Council if they didn’t agree.

I don’t like laying off people, but because the public worker sector is Hawaii’s biggest employer, there’s little choice. Yes, I know, union rules require dumping the most-junior hires first. But I’d make the union leaders take the heat on that. Gov. Lingle doesn’t have the stomach for a confrontation. She’s looking only at furloughs and pay cuts. Not enough. We need to get those payroll, health and pension payments way down.


Can’t face doing that? United Technologies laid off 11,600, JP Morgan Chase 14,000, Caterpillar 24,924 and GM 66,758. If private industry can face budget realities, why is it so difficult for government? They manufacture things and government manufactures services.

Ah, that re-election thing. People will ask, “Why don’t you get rid of some of those government workers?” Then, come election, they say, “Oh, you’re the one who fired all those poor government workers.”

That’s it in a nutshell.

I wish I were politically inclined. You really do deserve (or have to suffer) somebody who couldn’t care less about re-election to take care of this mess by doing the right things

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