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Hawaii News

House Speaker Scott Saiki lays off 3 in House, cancels contracts

House Speaker Scott Saiki is laying off three permanent staff members in the state House of Representatives and canceling computer upgrades and some copier contracts to cut costs.

Saiki said the changes are part of an effort to “streamline” and modernize House offices to improve services, and said his goal is to cut $500,000 to $1 million from the $14.1 million budget that was just approved to operate the House through June 30, 2021.

“Since I became speaker, we have not really made an attempt to restructure offices in the House to see how they can be made more efficient,” he said. The House has about 125 year-round employees including 51 office managers, which is one each for the 51 state representatives.

“I felt that it was important for the House to make some budget restrictions just as we have asked of the executive and the Judiciary branches,” Saiki said.

Saiki said the positions of two staff lawyers in the House Majority Research office were eliminated along with the position of a clerk in the office, he said. That leaves the office with nine lawyers to draft legislation and handle legal research for the House.

Saiki said he expects that as other employees retire or leave the House staff, those positions likely will be left vacant.

Canceling the computer upgrades is expected to save about $100,000, and Saiki this week canceled some copier machine leases to save another $84,000 per year.

The shutdown of much of the state economy during the coronavirus pandemic has caused a sharp drop in state tax collections, and Gov. David Ige has said the state must cope with a budget shortfall of about $1.5 billion over the next 15 months.

Lawmakers contend the actual shortfall is closer to $1 billion, and have cut funding for vacant positions and taken other steps to try to cover the budget gap. They also have authorized Ige to borrow up to $2.1 billion from the federal government to help cover the shortfall.

Ige, meanwhile, has imposed spending restrictions, and warned in April that he planned to impose 20% pay cuts or furloughs on public workers to help balance the budget. Leading lawmakers say they oppose public worker pay cuts, and Ige more recently has said there is “no immediate need” for pay cuts or furloughs.

The new budget to operate the state Senate through June 30, 2021, is $10.3 million, but a Senate spokesman said no information was available Wednesday on any planned cuts.

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