Hawaii’s Legislative Hocus Pocus

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 16, 2007
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One of the big secrets in Hawaii’s complex political world is how one goes about getting appointed to an important salary commission, like the one that makes recommendations to the Legislature on pay raises for the governor, judges and legislators.

This commission was created by a state constitutional amendment, approved by voters last year, which called for the governor, Senate president, House speaker and chief justice to name members.

The commission filed a report in March with the Legislature, which did not hold hearings or publicize the report. Under the constitutional amendment, the salary increases went into effect when the Legislature adjourned last week. The only way the recommendations can be turned down is if the legislators had voted it down.

The comical part of the legislative hocus pocus is that many of the legislators didn’t even know the report had been completed or submitted. There is no question the salary increases are needed simply because each branch of government is paid less than counterparts in other states, according to members of the commission. I was shocked to learn that Hawaii’s judges rank 49th among the 50 states.

Maybe a hearing was not necessary because our governor, judges and legislators are so underpaid, but it would have been nice for the commission to issue a press release to keep the public informed. It’s becoming very difficult for the public to stay informed about what’s going on in the bowels of the square building on South Beretania Street. It’s

not that anyone is going to deny the governor, judges or legislators their just due, it just had the wrong feel.

The price tag will be about $20 million by 2014. By today’s standards that’s not a lot of money. In business, if you want the best talent, you have to pay for it.

I remember reading about advice an old card shark once gave his protégé: “Young man, never do card tricks for the group you play poker with.”

The scary thought is that one of these days many of our money bills mandated by our state Constitution will be amended by voters not knowing what they are approving, and the taxpayers will unwittingly end up paying for escalating salaries which were never voted on by anyone.

In some cases in the past, changes to the Constitution were the result of confusing language, like vote NO if you agree and YES if you disagree. Another favorite is a blank vote means YES.

It will be interesting for future taxpayers to figure where the money is going to come from to finance the spiraling cost of government.

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