Support growing for governor's furlough plan

Support growing for governor's furlough plan
Patricia Hamamoto
Patricia Hamamoto
Colleen Hanabusa
Colleen Hanabusa

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - The state is getting closer to getting kids back in the classroom and getting rid of furlough Fridays.

After months of bitter fighting and political posturing there's now growing support to use the state's Rainy Day Fund to help end school furloughs.

Both House and Senate leaders tell us tonight the Governor's plan to end the school furloughs is doable and getting it done now will be a lot easier than waiting until next year.  A special session could end the furloughs in a fraction of the time it would take a regular legislative session.  Lawmakers called a special session for the Superferry so you'd think they would agree to go back to save school days.  At this point it appears it has the votes to use the Rainy Day Fund money.

Money talks, especially when it comes to bargaining between the unions and the state.

"When money is on the table negotiations become a whole lot easier," said Patricia Hamamoto, Hawaii State Superintendent.  "At least we know we're moving in the right direction."

Hawaii has the fewest number of school days in the nation.  The Governor wants the Department of Education and the teacher's union to agree to convert 15 non-instructional days into teaching days and it appears both sides are willing to talk.

"The opportunity to provide more instructional days is something we're all excited about," said Hamamoto.

"Unless there are reasons I don't know about I would suspect that it's very likely that it will happen."

The Governor's plan would use also $50 million dollars from the Emergency Budget Reserve Fund, more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund to restore an additional 12 school days.

The goal is to get the plan approved by January. To achieve that lawmakers would have to meet for a special session.  The soonest that could happen is early December.

The session would then last a minimum of five days for lawmakers to agree on a plan and vote to use the money.

"I think there is probably going to be support in the Senate. I think that if there is anything that will put a monkey wrench in it it's going to be those who have benefited from the Rainy Day Fund in the past," said senate president Colleen Hanabusa.  "It's not as simple as it appears to be.  We need at least the indication that the unions, as well as the (Department of Education) and (Board of Education) are on the same page as the Governor on this."

"If the members of the minority and majority caucus want to come back in for a special session I'll be open to it," said Calvin Say, Speaker of the House. 
So if there is already two-thirds support for using the emergency money why wasn't it an option months ago?

"Not being the Monday morning quarterback it's all hindsight rather than looking forward to the future. Where I try to take the approach is this could have been addressed during regular session," said Rep. Say.

The superintendent says she's checking appointments and wants to meet with the teacher's union sooner than later.

So what is the Rainy Day Fund?  It's settlement money from tobacco companies that dates back to 1999.  Right now, there is $60 million in the account.  Tobacco companies give the state money every year.  Hawaii will get about $8 million more in April.

The fund is already being used for various programs, including paying for the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Clinic and the Molokai General Hospital as well as Meals on Wheels and Domestic Violence Programs.

Money also went to pay for earthquake damage on the Big Island three years ago.