Despite hefty opposition, commission approves 64% pay hike for city councilmembers
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Salary Commission heard passionate opposition Tuesday to raises for city officials and councilmembers, but ultimately voted to approve the pay hikes in a 5-to-1 vote.
Under the plan, city councilmembers would get a 64% raise ― from $68,904 a year to $113,304.
The pay hike, proponents say, reflects the fact that the council is a full-time job.
Salary Commission Member David Hayakawa, an attorney, said the important decisions council members make and the demanding nature of the job have been long underpaid.
“Their pay was artificially low to put it frankly it was ridiculous,” Hayakawa said. “People expect our public servants to just take this hit and then they complain about them.”
But fellow commissioner Coralee Kubo, who served in former Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s cabinet, opposed the package.
“Seventy thousand dollars for a part time job is not a drop in the bucket -- many employees won’t earn that with one job two jobs three jobs,” Kubo argued. “In all good conscious I cannot support this for the workers of Hawaii.”
Supporters of the raises said the Honolulu Charter required them to set the salaries based on the workload and what other city executives earned. They added the higher salaries would help attract high quality people into public service.
Commissioner Rebecca Soon pointed out that although the commission at first wanted to set council salaries in line with deputy directors of city departments, they decided that raise was too high, and reduced it to the current proposal.
Several community members appeared at the meeting, even though with a May 1 deadline to forward the package to City Council, there was not much chance to consider changes.
Most, like Honolulu resident Charlene Tajiri, said it wasn’t right for council members to get such a substantial raise.
“What I am hearing is that council people cannot do their jobs because they are not being paid enough,” Tajiri said, “and I am saying well why did they take the jobs then?”
Others opposed raises because they were unhappy with city services. Former Council Member Heidi Tsuneyoshi said people might not be so unhappy about the raises if the council had done a better job of providing resources to ensure high quality city services.
She also pointed out that the increase will mean a huge increase in potential pensions.
“What you have before you is a very important time and a very important decision not just for the taxpayers right now but the taxpayers for generations to come because these salaries are tied to retirement,” she said.
Meanwhile, the mayor and his cabinet members would receive 12.6% raises ― based on what public employees have negotiated over the last few years. The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union for many white-collar city workers opposed the raise as excessive, while their members consider themselves underpaid.
The raises will take effect automatically on July 1 ― unless they are rejected by the City Council, which could also choose to reject just their own raises.
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