HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers grilled the governor’s chief of staff Friday, demanding to know why she didn’t inform them of the administration’s proposal to cut state workers’ pay by up to 20%.
Chief of Staff Linda Chu Takayama briefed the state Senate’s COVID-19 special committee Friday about a projected $1.5 billion deficit — the result of huge declines in state tax revenues amid the tourism shutdown.
Committee Chair Donovan Dela Cruz said lawmakers had asked department heads for individual budget information, but Takayama insisted they turn that over to her so she could filter it instead.
“You’re saying that you want to work with the Legislature but yet you go and you ask the departments not to respond,” Dela Cruz said.
Takayama told Dela Cruz: “We aren’t asking the departments not to respond. The departments will be responding, we just want to coordinate it.”
That reply triggered snickers from the senators.
Dela Cruz quickly fired back.
“No, Linda, why don’t you understand there’s a sense of urgency, OK?" he said.
"We all don’t want the 20% furloughs that was discussed. We want to be able to look to provide options and yet somehow you’re determined not to allow that to happen.”
Dela Cruz said his committee wanted to evaluate each departments’ budget to find ways to trim spending.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said she didn’t even know furloughs and pay cuts were proposed for workers, including educators, law enforcement, even those in the medical field responding to the pandemic.
Kim said she found out from watching the news.
“I have to admit, I had no clue," she said.
“You folks didn’t raise it, didn’t bring it up to any of us. We met with you, these meetings are being televised and the very next day or that evening this information comes out, takes us by surprise, takes the public by surprise.”
She added that people are suffering — and the administration needs to act accordingly.
“They’re devastated. These people are devastated. They are the ones looking after our children, they’re working on the front lines, risking their own health and they hear stuff like this,” she said.
Gov. David Ige insisted Wednesday that he was working with lawmakers and the unions on balancing the budget, but both union leaders and state senators say they were not consulted.
Dela Cruz suggested they subpoena the information directly from the department heads so Takayama wouldn’t intercept — an idea other senators approved of.
Meanwhile, Takayama said no decision has been made on pay cuts — and the administration is trying to find other ways to cut costs.