Carlisle speech calls for higher user fees, lower employee benefits

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle
City Council Chairperson Nestor Garcia
City Council Chairperson Nestor Garcia
State Sen. David Ige
State Sen. David Ige

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four months ago Peter Carlisle became the 13th mayor of Honolulu. Today he delivered his first state of the city speech.  He made it clear there are no sacred cows meaning everything from salaries to user fees can and will be adjusted if needed.

"There are people that have been out of work for two years and yet some departments with the city have been getting raises. That's at the expense of the people who can't work so that's not my idea of shared sacrifice," said Mayor Carlisle.

Unlike his predecessor Mayor Carlisle didn't sing in his state of the city speech unless you count the sour note on the economy.  The city has a $100 million deficit and the rainy day fund is down to $29 million.

"That's only enough to keep the city operating for five days," said Carlisle during the speech at Mission Memorial Auditorium, next to Honolulu Hale.

Still he plans to end furloughs.  But if employees return to five day work weeks the city will have to save in other ways including reigning in overtime, changing the pension and benefits system, even straight pay cuts for employees.

"Pay cuts are something that has to be considered absolutely unequivocally," said Carlisle.

Layoffs are also on the table as a last resort if unions don't negotiate.

"If they hold steadfast then those options would have to be considered.  I certainly don't think that would be in the interest of their constituents," said Carlisle.

That includes police officers and firefighters.

"They are not sacred cows and they will be looked at as well," said Carlisle.

While salaries could drop, expect fees to go up for just about everything except TheBus.  The mayor also wants to hand over the 12 affordable housing properties the city manages to the private sector to operate.

"We make very poor landlords, I'm sure I'd be a major problem with that as well," said Carlisle. "We are land poor and cash strapped and the land is not being productive in and of itself it's useless."

"We will stipulate that housing has to remain affordable so people don't have to be afraid that they'll be thrown out into the street," said Nestor Garcia, Honolulu City Council Chair.

In his speech Carlisle said many people are sick and tired of politics and shortly after taking the state he started talking about transformation.

"Many were not satisfied and did not trust the leadership of government in general and in Honolulu Hale specifically. They were tired of the gridlock caused by endless antics and partisan politics," said Carlisle in the speech. "The style of leadership at Honolulu Hale today has shifted."

He wants more professionalism and less politics and he wants it to carry over to the state capitol where lawmakers could make his job tougher if they take the city's share of the transient accommodation tax or the money raised to build the rail transit.

"Taking from Peter, literally I might add, to pay Paul might seem tempting as a quick fix, but taxpayers who are responsible to both the county and the state, it is a zero sum game that does nothing and returns no money back to them."

But at almost the exact time he was making that statement, right across the street at the state capitol the senate ways and means committee really was voting on taking from Peter.

"I found it ironic that while he was speaking the senate ways and means committee did approve for further consideration the $200 million grab of the rail transit fund.  They voted on it as he was speaking," said Nestor Garcia, Honolulu City Council Chair.

The state collects the rail tax funds and gives it to the city, but instead some lawmakers want to use the money to sell bonds and then give the city the proceeds.

"From the counties perspective it's cash or cash proceeds from a bond sale, but it's still cash to the county," said State Senator David Ige, Ways & Means Committee Chair.

Senator Ige says he wouldn't do it if it jeopardized federal funding for rail.  He also says the proposal would extend the tax two extra years so the city would get more although taxpayers would also pay more in the long run.

"There's a carrot in it for the city in the sense they would get more funds than actually collected," said Sen. Ige.

Senator Ige says it has to be a collaborative effort and the state won't go through with the plan unless the city approves.

"We will not be supporting the taking of city and county funds for any purpose other than rail for which they were devoted to," said Carlisle.

The mayor will submit his detailed budget to the council March 2.

Meanwhile tomorrow is a city furlough day.  Honolulu Hale is one of a number of city offices closed tomorrow. Central Oahu Regional Park and all satellite city halls are also closed.  Hanuama Bay, golf courses and the Honolulu Zoo will stay open.

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