In A Crisis, We Need Real Leaders
Wednesday - June 10, 2009
Didn’t you just love it: the quality of leadership, the mature judgment, the measured words?
Last Monday Gov. Linda Lingle, in tones funereal, announced that she would balance Hawaii’s $730 million budget shortfall out of the wallets of state workers.
By Wednesday, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa was telling the press that the governor had made no offer to the unions and was uni-laterally using “furloughs” to cut state worker salaries by 13.8 percent.
Lingle responded by questioning labor lawyer Hanabusa’s knowledge of her specialty. The senator, said Lingle, “doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
And worse, Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira, in the governor’s telling, was guilty of practicing “semantics.”
Semantics! How dare she? Perreira responded by calling the governor a liar.
That’s right. A liar. “It is the governor who has been lying to the press,” said Perreira. “She has been lying to the Legislature and about how close to an agreement she is with other unions. Now she is fooling herself into thinking that people agree with her.”
Whoa, now, oh great state leaders. Certainly we can do better than this, can’t we?
After all, this isn’t a playground fight; it’s the state’s fiscal health and the mortgage payments, college tuitions, grocery bills, car fares and health insurance of workers across the state. Not to mention the deflationary economic effect of slashing the income of 14,500 state workers and their families by 14 percent.
Liars? Ignoramuses? We can do better than that, particularly since everyone knew the furloughs were coming and everyone should have been ready with a measured response. The emphasis should be on the word “measured.”
Even I knew they were coming, the certifiable economic/mathematical ignoramus that I am. Months and months ago, long before the legislative session began, I added lines 24, 28, 36 and 40, multiplied by four, subtracted the sum of lines 40a, b, c and d, ran it through my supercomputer, and came up with two furlough days per month per state worker.
For months, I’ve been telling my professorial colleagues we’d have to agree to furloughs: two days per month.
Why, then, the recriminations? The “trash talk,” as my friends at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin put it last Thursday morning?
Because we’re talking religion here: people of different faiths. At a lunch a couple of weeks ago, I opined that the governor should have compromised with the Democratic legislators and gone along with a tax increase or two. Doing so would have made it easier for union leaders and Democrats to swallow the furlough pills.
“But she couldn’t!” replied a Republican luncheon companion. “She signed a pledge not to approve any new taxes.”
Ah, yes, the Grover Nordquist, Proposition 13, Newt Gingrichian Contract with American pledge not to raise taxes under any circumstances. This religion even has a gospel: the gospel according to Saint Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clint Eastwood: “Read my lips: No new taxes.”
Then there’s the Church of the Democrats, where the folding chairs at the front of their revival meeting have long been reserved for union members. Public workers now make up the bulk of the unionized in Hawaii’s democracy - and they will be served no matter the exigencies of the state budget.
So the governor will be called a liar, the Senate president ignorant and the head of the state’s largest union a semanticist. A semanticist?
Stay tuned. I’m still betting on two furlough days per month but, as a state worker, I’m not betting much.
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