Hawaii lawmakers reluctantly agreed Thursday to continue a 5-percent pay cut for top legislative, executive and judicial positions, resolving a contentious issue that had drawn public criticism.
The House accepted the Senate’s version of House Bill 575, which continues the pay cut until Dec. 31, 2013. Had the bill died, at least one legislator would have been given a $2,500 salary increase this year alone.
The bill now moves on to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The cuts began in 2009 and were set to expire on June 30.
The bill’s passage was not without debate.
Rep. Della Au Belatti opposed the bill — not because she wants a pay increase but because she said the bill is unconstitutional and faces legal challenge.
She also lamented that the judiciary was woefully underpaid, and that the restoration of all pay cuts in 2014 would be enormous.
Reps. Faye Hanohano, Dee Morikawa and Joe Souki also voted against the bill.
But Rep. Blake Oshiro, who said he recognized the “serious legal questions,” said that “we, at this time, we have no other choice” but to pass the bill. “At the end of the day it is a symbolic action that makes it worthwhile going down this road.”
Oshiro said those questions could be addressed at a later date.
“If this bill were to fail, we will not ever have again this type of leverage and opportunity to change this or anything in the future,” he said.
“I stand here embarrassed because of this bill,” said Rep. Mark Takai. “This bill is not the way to go about business in the Legislature. But we need to pass this bill. “
Takai said he would urge the governor to veto the bill so that it could return to the Legislature this year to fix the problems in the bill.
Rep. Gene Ward said the bill was “symptomatic” of the session, meaning the public in large saw the salary question quite clearly while lawmakers did not.
“The people are hurting out there, and we have to show them by leadership demonstration,” he said.
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