No Specific Reason

From the Honolulu Star-AdvertiserThe latest installment of “Working Hard or Hardly Working” (WH/HW?) comes from Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.

HB2501 came at the request of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).  It would permit a “holdover” water rights while their filing before the Land Board is being reviewed.  This became necessary with the imminent closure of Hawaii Cane & Sugar (HC&S) (a) to preserve water service to more than 30,000 upcountry Maui residents, and (b) to transition the company’s land holdings from sugar cane to diversified agriculture.  The latter is what triggered a review of A&Bs water permits.

In the latest draft issued by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, A&B was specifically excluded from the bill while ten other applicants would still benefit.  When Tokuda was pressed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she offered her wisdom:

“There’s no specific reason”

A recent article offered fivethirtyeight.com (“How much should state legislators get paid?“) examined the compensation that lawmakers receive across the nation.  Compensation is not just what legislators are paid directly as salary, but includes per diem expenses.  For example, neighbor island legislators are rightly compensated a single roundtrip ticket from their districts to Oahu every week.  They are also compensated for their housing accommodations in Honolulu during the legislative session.

When all is tabulated, Hawaii legislators received the largest compensation for any part-time or hybrid legislature in the nation.  For their work from the months of January through early May, Hawaii legislators are reported by NCSL to be compensated $68,352.

Keep in mind that this is what they are paid for four months of work.  This is lumped on top of what should be their normal, full-time employment.  What is the point of a part-time legislator when their only gainful employment is being a lawmaker?

When legislators receive a full year’s salary for only four months of full-time work, “For no specific reason” is not the $68,352 response that taxpayers deserve – especially when the action jeopardizes the sustainability of our islands and water services to 30,000 constituents.

There once was a time not too long ago when lawmakers were not afraid to work hard.  The mentality of public service and judicious oversight had lawmakers holding marathon hearings from 1PM in the afternoon until 2, 3 or even 4AM the following morning.  These days it seems that they are all trying to make happy hour down at Hukilau, or the fundraiser of one of their colleagues to liquor up and enjoy being lavished with expensive food by lobbyists.

A case can be made for proper compensation of legislators.  There is a saying in the private sector that says “you get what you pay for”, and the findings by fivethirtyeight.com seem to support that.  Current legislative leaders, however, are starting to look less and less like hard-working private sector employees and more like 9-to-5 entry level employees.  If a $68,352 manager in the private sector made a decision based on “no specific reason”, they would be terminated immediately.

Is your legislator working hard?  Or hardly working?

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