Gov. David Ige has proposed 20% pay cuts for teachers and other public workers to help offset what is expected to be a collapse in state tax collections amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to public employee union leaders.
In a news conference this afternoon Ige said no final decision has been made yet on pay cuts or furloughs, but said if pay reductions are imposed on public workers, he and his cabinet will take pay similar cuts in pay.
State lawmakers have already warned that public school teachers and other public employees will almost certainly have to forgo negotiated pay raises that were supposed to be funded by the Legislature this year, but the Ige proposal would impose actual pay cuts for the first time since the “furlough Fridays” of the Great Recession.
House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi issued a joint statement this afternoon urging Ige to wait before imposing the pay cuts.
“Although Governor Ige has the unilateral authority to impose furloughs and salary cuts, we do not agree with such action,” the lawmakers wrote. It is possible the federal government will provide more support to help stabilize state budgets, as the National Governors Association and others have proposed.
“Although we disagree with Governor Ige’s proposal, the Legislature will work with him to assess and pursue all options,” Saiki and Kouchi wrote.
According to a letter from Hawaii State Teacher Association President Corey Rosenlee to his membership, HSTA and the other public sector unions were informed of the pay cut proposal in a meeting at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
Ige’s proposal would impose a 20% salary cut on most public employees including teachers as early as May 1, and a 10% cut in pay for first responders such as police officers, firefighters, nurses, and emergency medical technicians.
The cuts are designed to help offset what is expected to be a steep dropoff in state tax collections triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, which has virtually shut down the state’s tourism industry.
“This is unacceptable,” Rosenlee wrote in the letter to his members. “While we recognize the coronavirus has already started to cripple Hawaii’s economy, no one can be sure of its long-term impacts. We believe cutting salaries for tens of thousands of state workers is rash and will hurt our state even more.”
Hawaii Government Employees Associations Executive Director Randy Perreira said in a statement issued this morning that Ige’s proposed pay reductions would last for two years.
Perreira argued that “all public workers deserve support, not pay cuts. They are keeping vital and essential government services running and many are putting their own health and safety at risk because they haven’t been given adequate personal protection equipment (PPE).”
As examples, Perreira cited health care workers at the Hawaii State Hospital who are being told to wear homemade cloth masks; deputy sheriffs who have been given just one mask; and Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation resources enforcement officers who were told to use “expired, damaged, moldy and ill-fitting PPE left over from the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting held in 2011.”
The unions were not given any formal pay cut proposal at the Tuesday meeting, and Rosenlee wrote that it is not clear yet whether the cuts will be imposed as furloughs or across-the-board salary decreases.
He said in the letter that a 20% salary reduction would result in the loss of $600 to $1,800 in monthly income for teachers.
“Salaries for Hawaii’s public school educators are already low, and cutting an additional 20 percent will inevitably worsen Hawaii’s teacher shortage crisis, denying our keiki the quality educators they deserve,” Rosenlee wrote.
As for HGEA, which is the largest union in the state, Perreira said in his statement that “every person who remains fully employed during this crisis is contributing to the local economy by purchasing takeout meals at local restaurants and mom and pop businesses, buying locally grown produce, groceries and fabric from local stores to make fabric face masks and other are buying other local products. The solution is not more unemployed workers.”
Rosenlee said the state has other options, noting that the state’s cash surplus at the end of last fiscal year combined with the “rainy day” budget reserve fund total more than $1 billion, and the CARES Act approved by Congress and President Trump on March 27 included $863 million to bolster government finances.
“HSTA and other public sector unions have made it clear to the governor that this will exacerbate our weakening economy, hurt government employees, and potentially prolong this crisis,” Rosenlee wrote. “We stand united and will not accept the governor’s plan without exploring every last alternative to keep these harmful cuts from happening.”