Governor makes plea to lawmakers

Governor Linda Lingle
Governor Linda Lingle

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

Governor Linda Lingle makes a plea for her budget plan, after expected state revenue drops by $2 billion.

But island senators are seeking more information than the governor can give. Lawmakers want exact details on how the budget will be balanced. But the governor wants them to accept a rough outline, with those details filled in later, as they get worked out.

Its getting down to crunch time at the Capitol.

"We have to have a budget decked by April 9th," said Donna Mercado Kim, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

That means lawmakers need a final version, with details of what cuts will be made. That the state is facing a $2 billion shortfall in revenue - thanks to the slumping economy.

And because of Hawaii's rising unemployment rate, Lingle doesn't want to raise taxes on local companies to make up the shortfall.

Because, she feels, that is money businesses could be spending on employees.

"Higher taxes could be the straw that breaks the backs of businesses," said Lingle.

After restructuring debt, freezing staff, and cutting spending, the state is still short by nearly $300 million. Money the head of Hawaii hopes to make up, by getting wage and benefit concessions from unions. Their contracts are up at the end of this year.

"It wasn't the first place we looked, it was the last" added Lingle.

But lawmakers feel they are legally required to sign off on a balanced budget now. Not based on what might happen later.

"What if you are not able to get reductions from the unions?" asked Kim.

Lingle tells senators that under her plan, if she can't get the reductions, she has other options available. Furloughing state workers one day each month is a possibility to make up the budget shortfall.

The governor is also doing her part to reduce state payrolls. She also has a bill that will be heard Friday at the Capitol. It calls for more than just pay freezes, but pay cuts for Lingle and her staff.

But unions we talked with say, they don't understand how taking money away from middle wage workers will fix the economy. And, they feel, taking away health benefits will hurt workers in the long run.