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Editorial | On Politics

If you thought Hawaii’s budget deficit was bad …

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We start the year with ABC: two biggies and one mini.

This month, Abercrombie, Brown and Cuomo start dealing with the budget deficits in the states of Hawaii, California and New York.

First up is Gov. Jerry Brown, who was sworn in yesterday. Brown’s California has a sick budget that exceeds medical metaphors. This state budget isn’t bleeding or hemorrhaging; this is the sucking chest wound of budget deficits.

The state’s 18-month deficit is estimated at between $25 billion and $28.5 billion. Legislative analysts say if nothing is done to stop spending, California will face an annual deficit of $20 billion.

Brown, who like Abercrombie is 72, is returning as governor of California. He joked yesterday that despite the dark financial outlook, he was taking the job with "no mental reservations … really, no mental reservations."

Brown’s budget cuts, however, will give pause. The Sacramento Bee, the major newspaper in the state capital, reports that Brown is going to shrink social services, close parks, cut library hours, trim early childhood protection funds, cut low-income grants to the blind, elderly and disabled and extend a series of tax increases set to expire this summer.

Across the country, in New York, Andrew Cuomo started off his term with a call for a state worker pay freeze. New York is looking at a deficit estimated at $9 billion.

Cuomo campaigned on the pay-freeze issue. The call for "shared sacrifice" is not so much a surprise, and the state’s large and politically powerful public worker unions endorsed Cuomo, who like Brown is the son of a former governor.

While Abercrombie was not born into Washington Place, he restores the Democratic gubernatorial line and also faces his own budget deficit.

The Hawaii projection is a much more manageable figure, estimated before the latest state tax predictions at $71 million.

Still, Abercrombie will be listening to a constant stream of pleas for more money.

The loudest will come from the public employee unions. The state’s deficit projections are based in part on the end of the state worker furloughs in June. After that, the state employees work five days a week, four weeks a month, unless Abercrombie can figure out a new way to pay state workers less.

That doesn’t seem likely. Abercrombie has already given public workers a big gift for the new year by restoring the 60-40 split in medical insurance costs.

Last year, Gov. Linda Lingle had refused to increase state spending for public worker medical benefits. The historical split of the state picking up 60 percent of the costs shifted. Unions said that under some plans, workers were actually paying a larger percentage than the employer.

Abercrombie restored the 60-40 split for the remainder of the contract period, which ends June 30. No dollar figures are available, but it shows that Abercrombie is not ready to alienate his labor base.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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