HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor is delaying the start of state worker furloughs until July 1, saying that the federal COVID-19 relief bill is offering the state much-needed assistance.
“Furloughs are our last resort,” said Gov. David Ige, in an interview with Hawaii News Now.
“We don’t want to be doing it and when we had a chance to review the new federal relief package, there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars for the state of Hawaii specifically to help with vaccine distribution, with testing and contract tracing and public education that we knew would be very helpful.”
Workers had previously been told to prepare for two unpaid days each month starting in January.
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said teachers are breathing a sigh of relief. “We know that furloughs when we did them in 2009 had devastating impacts not only on Hawaii’s economy, but on our schools that directly led to the teacher shortage crisis,” he said.
“What the six months gives us is an opportunity to hope Congress passes a larger stimulus bill and hope that our legislature is able to find the revenue to make sure that we keep our teachers,” Rosenlee added.
The state is poised to get nearly $2 billion from the $900 billion pandemic relief package.
Earlier this month, the governor announced a furlough plan for most state workers in a bid to slash approximately $300 million a year in payroll costs.
The furloughs would amount to a roughly 9% pay cut.
Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore said the delay of furloughs is “terrific news” and not just for state workers but the local economy as a whole.
“A lesson we learned from the last recession was that in fact cutting the salaries of public sector workers will make recovery for the whole state’s economy much more difficult,” he said.
The governor says even with the federal help, he is still anticipating a $1.4 billion deficit in the state’s budget.
“Sixty percent of the state budget is direct personnel costs, salaries, benefits, taxes, payroll taxes and those kinds of things, and so having such a significant budget reduction will require some impact,” Ige said.