Mandatory furlough among Lingle's strategy to close $185M budget gap

Published: Jun. 1, 2009 at 6:57 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 1, 2009 at 10:39 PM HST
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By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) -  Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) wants mandatory time off for all state workers.  It's part of a plan to close the $185 million budget gap with just a month to go in the current fiscal year.

She says this is a very serious situation the state is facing, the most serious one she's faced so far as governor.  On top of the $185 million, she also has to find $426 million for the next two fiscal years, but she says she has a plan.

Hawaii's budget problem hits another road block.  Lingle has to find $185 million by the end of the month, and even if she does, that still leaves the state's general fund high and dry.

"In other words, we will have zero balance in the state's bank account which is used to run most of state's programs," she said.  "This is a fiscal emergency that is unprecedented in size and scope."

In a televised address Monday afternoon, Lingle talked about her strategy for balancing the current budget.  Her first plan is delay paying about $130 million worth of bills until July so it doesn't impact this budget.

"We are not forgoing our responsibility and obligation for those payments, but merely shifting the cost to the next fiscal year," said Lingle.

She also is looking to cut some Medicaid funding for approximately 112,000 lower-income adults who currently get free medical care.  This would be a 4.3 percent decrease in funding.

"This reduction will not affect the free health insurance we provide to children of low income families," Lingle said.

And the most controversial is her plan to force all state employees to take three furlough days a month, effective July 1.  This would be a savings of $688 million.

"If we do not implement the furlough plan, we would have to layoff up to 10,000 employees to realize an equivalent amount of savings," said Lingle.

This plan would mean employees will take home almost 14 percent less a year than they currently do.

"It would be irresponsible not to seek savings from the single largest expense in our state's operating budget: labor," said Lingle.

The governor cannot force the state Department of Education, the University of Hawaii or the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation (HSSC) to implement mandatory furloughs.  She plans to reduce funding for those departments which would equal the cost savings of implementing furloughs in other departments.

She plans to ask the judiciary, legislature, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to follow suit.

With revenues down by almost $3 billion, the governor says these are decisions she has to make, not want to make.

She says she's not immune to all this.  She will take a 14 percent cut in her salary just like every state employee.

State democrats say they understand the predicament the state is in, but they disagree about her plan to force state employees to take three days of mandatory furlough a month.

"I think it's unfortunate that she would take it to the larger public especially dealing with workers of state government," said Rep. Marcus Oshiro, (D) House Finance Chair.

"There are programs out there that may not be needed that may not be core as far as what we consider core," said Rep. Calvin Say, (D) Speaker of the House.  "Public education is core, higher and lower, health and human services are core; housing is core. Environment? Is that a core?"

They also say the governor's plan to delay paying $130 million worth of bills just adds to next year's budget deficit.  They hope to collaborate with the governor on a solution.