POSTED: 8:25 p.m. HST, Feb 11, 2011
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, alienating labor, today defended his proposal to end state reimbursements for federal Medicare Part B premiums for retired public workers as essential to sustain the public-worker health system.
The governor appeared before the state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee in a hearing room overflowing with public workers and retirees to describe the reimbursements as a bonus that can no longer be justified.
The 72-year-old governor said he was speaking as a public worker who has devoted his life to public service but does not believe he or others earned the benefit.
"This is a question of looking our survival straight in the face and seeing what can we do together to make this happen," Abercrombie said in his first testimony before lawmakers this session. "You cannot have people in the canoe with their arms folded watching everybody else paddle. Everybody has to do their share."
Abercrombie, a liberal Democrat, has been a loyal advocate for labor throughout his political career. Public-sector labor unions, including a few that backed his campaign for governor from the start, characterized his proposal as a betrayal of their social contract with the state. Several of the public workers and retirees at the hearing sat stone-faced, their arms crossed against their chests, as the governor spoke, and a few sighed and snickered as he tried to make his points.
Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, described Abercrombie's claim that Medicare reimbursements were not earned as "offensive." He said it would be wrong to violate a promise made to public-worker retirees.
"As a community we have looked to these people -- these retirees -- who have had a great hand in building our state, that we owe them an obligation," he said. "Our country is premised on the foundation that we that work, pay for the ones who have already worked before."
Perreira said Abercrombie, who has a six-figure salary as governor and federal and state pensions, should not liken himself to the average public-worker retiree.