Questions As The Legislature Opens

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 20, 2010
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Our good friends in France were the first to implement a shorter workweek. It was newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reform platform to boost their economy. Everyone wondered if it would become the future of work in the developed world.

The idea was based on the theory it would force employers to hire more employees and ease a 10 percent unemployment rate. Belgium jumped on board in 2003 by going to a 38-hour work-week. The urge to copy France’s move spread around the civilized world.

The shorter workweek, well, worked. It’s estimated that some 300,000 new jobs were created in a four-year period (1998-2002), thanks to the 35-hour French workweek.


 

But the increase in job creation over the ensuing 10 years was zero, according to economists who followed the reform. In true political fashion, Sarkozy’s attempt to reform the 35-hour workweek was a plea to “work more, earn more.” The whole idea proved to be a bust, because most companies had little need for longer workweeks during a recession.

France, known for its powerful unions, drew only a few hundred participants to protest against a complicated law that would legislate new work hours for workers. So what has the labor force in liberal France been griping about since the return to the “good old days” of a full workweek? Surprisingly, the union-controlled economy has shifted to concern over purchasing power.

If you listen closely to what Hawaii politicians are saying in the wake of all our budgetary problems, they appear to be preparing a coup de grace of their own when the next session of the Legislature convenes.

During an election year, the uppermost concern for politicians is to get re-elected. If they aren’t, they may have set their sights on a higher office or a better leadership role in their party.

Of course, there is the gubernatorial election to worry about. For many aspiring elected officials, having an “unfriendly” candidate elected to the highest position in the state can be depressing, because chances are that it will, at least, stall further aspirations.

I’m not suggesting that someone in power is going to propose a reform platform that would call for a shorter workweek, a la the French.

What I am suggesting is that Hawaii’s politics are very predictable. In its worst form, we have chambers of copycats. And while we have very few original thinkers, we do a good job of copying what other states are doing and putting our name on it. We may be the most unique state in the United States, but we don’t have an abundance of unique thinkers in elected office.

So what can you expect this session?

I suggest taxpayers prepare to process some legislative diversionary proposals, like same-sex marriage, firework bans and new ways to deal with the state’s homeless population.


Every legislator will probably have some heavy words for the successes and failures of the public school system, and will continue the debate over the proposed elevated rail system.

By the time you read this, the arbitrator’s decision on the United Public Workers’ contract will probably be public, while the negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and Hawaii Government Employees Association are still locked in a wait-and-see mode. The buzz around town is the unions will start flexing their muscles when the Legislature reconvenes Wednesday, and then there will be some kind of settlement. Until then, nothing will likely happen. It could, but it doesn’t look that way right now.

What does it all mean for you, the taxpayer?

Hang on to your wallet and don’t let the “choreographed” smoke screens blur your critical thinking.

What they don’t say this time around will be more important than what they do say.

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