State Workers And The Budget

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 22, 2009
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The Legislature is in conference committee hearings on the state budget for the next two fiscal years beginning July 1, 2009.

The Senate passed its version of the budget, which turned out to be about $2 billion less than the previous two-year spending plan. Both measures would implement spending cuts and lay off scores of state workers. The Senate plan contemplates raising the top income tax rate to 12 percent for those making more than $200,000. The current top tax rate is 8.25 percent.

The governor has vowed to veto any efforts to raise taxes but has shown interest in tapping a few special funds here and there, if needed. One thing is for sure, we taxpayers have been showered with a torrent of “out-of-the-box” ideas to solve our huge budget shortfall. As legislators promised, everything was on the table, although the legalized gambling proposals were dead on arrival.

What happened to the vaunted four-day workweek experiment? Earlier in the year, we wrote about Hawaii following in the footsteps of Utah’s adoption of a four-day workweek as a money-saving experiment. The idea was to save money on electricity, gasoline and other energy expenses. The change affected 17,000 state employees who now work 10-hour days, four days a week. Taxpayers in Utah have gotten used to state agencies being closed on Fridays.

Similar money-saving experiments are going on in New York, West Virginia, Virginia and Washington State.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona led the pilot project program at the Department of Health involving about 269 employees who liked the four-day work week.

Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employee Association (HGEA), admitted that they were receptive to the idea of a modified workweek.

The lieutenant governor is most interested in maintaining the same level of service to the public, and the evaluating goes on.

Government officials evaluating the four-day workweek were surprised that energy costs did in fact decline, as well as overtime, absenteeism and sick leave by as much as 9 percent. This phenomenon has a name: In management it is known as the Hawthorne Effect. An associate professor at Harvard conducted a study of human behavior in work situations at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric from 1927 to 1932. Dr. Elton Mayo was studying the effects of illumination on productivity. It ushered in the new era of human relations.

The bottom line to all the research of groups and changes in illumination in the workplace is that group pressure, rather than management demands, frequently had the strongest influence on how productive they would or wouldn’t be. His research revealed the importance of management style and revolutionized management training.

In the process of fixing our huge budget deficit, it’s going to take more than working conditions and employee satisfaction to change the attitude of the public toward the plight of our government workers. They deserve a little empathy. The furlough program seems the most rational way for public employees to share the burden of the mandated budget cuts. After all, a furlough of one or two days a month without pay is at least one or two days off. On the other hand, a 5-percent pay cut is just 5 percent in lost wages with no time off. It’s a good bet the governor’s administration will keep the four-day workweek alive. But of course, by itself, it will not solve our budget shortfall.

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