Communicating To Cut Costs

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 05, 2009
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One would think that most people understand how to cut costs: Just stop spending as much as you did when your bills weren’t costing more than you are bringing home after taxes. Not spending more than you earn makes good economic sense. It’s probably true that saving a percentage of what you make also is good economic advice.

It is for these reasons that the state’s current negotiations - going on, stalled or tied up in legal hocus pocus - are starting to get boring. Especially if you aren’t in a public union or in some benefit-delivery program.

A simple economic question may help the discussion: “If you had your choice, what would you prefer: being laid off or furloughed?”

Of course, not all the individuals in the negotiations have a say in the outcome. For all practical purposes, they are powerless to influence the outcome of the negotiations and can only wait and worry.

It appears Hawaii’s taxpayers are witnessing a gross distortion in communication. Communication works when facts, opinions, feelings, preferences and experiences are completely and thoroughly shared and accurately received and decoded, leading to a lasting mutual understanding. That is not going on right now. If anything, the opposite is happening.

The classic example last week was when UH President David McClain declared a state of fiscal exigency exists at the university. Supposedly, this “fiscal exigency” allows chancellors to identify areas where budget cuts can be made. In the same breath he went on to say that any layoffs would need approval by the University of Hawaii’s politically appointed Board of Regents. So, once the employee figures what “exigency” means, he or she would have to figure out who to call for relief - a regent, a government official or a legislator. From experience I can tell you that most UH employees wouldn’t hesitate to call a legislator.

But right now, the legislators are being very quiet. It could be because they are saving their union favors for when they seek re-election next year, or that they don’t have a lot of leverage in the current negotiations.

Chances are the Senate will have to come back in special session to confirm or deny one of the governor’s judicial nominations. The word is the House has no intention of coming back in special session for any reason.

While this is all going on, Attorney General Mark Bennett said the state will appeal Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto’s ruling giving the HGEA a permanent injunction barring the governor from furloughing state workers unilaterally. But furloughs, with union leaders in negotiations on a new contract, are still on the table for discussion.

No matter how bad the budget shortfall is, apparently nobody in government can lay off a government employee, no matter what the circumstance. If you add the problem of trying to figure out which government employees could be laid off, it becomes mind boggling.

The point is this: The negotiations are being subjected to external factors that distort messages and their meaning, which in turn inhibits comprehension and mutual understanding. It’s a good bet that a multilevel, comprehensive agreement will soon be crafted and be accepted by the contentious parties, primarily because the tax-paying public is fed up.

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