How Will Neil ‘Reconfigure’?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 29, 2010
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The state of Hawaii is faced with a big problem, not unlike other states in the Union. Ours is how the new administration will balance a $844 million shortfall over the next two years. Gov. Neil Abercrombie says he will find money by reconfiguring government, pursuing federal funding and putting people to work on public-works projects.

The problem is it’s going to take a little patience on the part of the public, like understanding new concepts such as “reconfiguring government.”

What does that mean? In the past, much of the problem with balancing the budget was that a large part of it is mandated by law. The law is clear on what is funded and what is not. It doesn’t say how, it just says that it will. It’s pretty obvious at this point that the public unions are going to be asked to be helpful - which means, in straight talk, make concessions.

I don’t believe anyone in the private sector thinks for a minute that the governor will rein in the public unions’ demands. Unions tend to be very resistant to candidates who go back on their campaign promises. From the private sector’s point of view, they would probably say, “Think before you act; it’s not your money.” The union reminder would be, “Whose bread you eat, his song you shall sing.”

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not speaking to the governor here. He’s a smart guy and knows how the union leaders think and behave. I worry about the reaction from the private sector because it’s unpredictable at this point. The governor does-n’t need any advice, because if you can tell the difference between good and bad advice, you don’t need advice. But his new cabinet members are going to be whispering in his ear every time they meet. Some of these people would be well-advised to ask for advice, but I doubt if they will. They should realize early on that if you are doing something wrong, you will do it badly. I can’t wait to see how reconfiguring government will generate the needed $844 million.

I’m worried about how the local unions will respond to reconfiguring government. Until about 1930 there were no labor laws. Employers didn’t have to engage in collective bargaining with employees, and their response to unions was very limited.

The point is, times have changed, and here we are wrestling with the mandates in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

Imagine, Gov. Abercrombie says he is going to bring back thousand of prisoners currently serving their terms on the Mainland - who will be housed in which correctional facility and guarded by whom? Where’s the new prison going to be built to house them? None of the past governors has been able to build a prison anywhere.

It looks like there is a possibility that the public’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward unions is about to hear a new song they may not like. Under the current circumstances, there will probably be little they can do but sing along.

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