Emergency Money Made Easy, If You’re a Democratic Governor
David Ige, like Neil Abercrombie, had no problem securing funding from Hawaii lawmakers to get his new administration up and running — without providing detailed requests. That wasn't the case for Republican Linda Lingle.
Gov. David Ige was elected Nov. 4, took office Dec. 1 and hit the Legislature up for $670,400 a month later.
His office needed the emergency money to cover payroll shortfalls, travel expenses and other transitional needs of the new administration.
It’s a common request for incoming governors to make, but one that often receives little scrutiny, particularly for Democrats in deep blue Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige attends a legislative meeting April 24 with his deputy chief of staff, Laurel Johnston.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
State lawmakers rushed to pass House Bill 930, unanimously agreeing to provide every cent Ige requested. He signed the legislation into law in late February as Act 2.
Few details of how the $670,400 was to be spent or how that amount was arrived at were provided prior to the vote — just a handful of categories and assurances that it was necessary.
The governor’s office provided a breakdown of the appropriation this week in response to a Civil Beat request.
Laurel Johnston, Ige’s deputy chief of staff, said the bulk of it, $359,000, went toward paying out unused vacation time to staff in the previous administration.
The remainder included $12,000 in protocol funds to buy gifts and dinners for visiting dignitaries; over $100,000 in dues to the Western Governors Association and National Governors Association; and $52,000 to buy a 2005 Ford Expedition to chauffeur the governor and his security detail around in. The balance went for new Microsoft tablets for staff, IT upgrades and travel to meetings on the mainland and neighbor islands.
“This happens with every change in administration,” Johnston said. “You can’t budget ahead of time for what the outcome of the election is going to be.”
The experience of Ige’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, was similar.
He took office in December 2010 and asked the Legislature in January 2011 for $1.06 million in general funds to see his office through the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ended June 30. His request included $365,000 for vacation payouts. Lawmakers had the unamended bill on his desk less than a month later.
A Rare Chance to Rankle
It wasn’t so easy for Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who preceded Abercrombie.
She took office in December 2002, replacing term-limited Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano. He and the Legislature left her office a fraction of what it said it needed to operate until the next fiscal year began July 1, 2003.
Rep. Calvin Say, House speaker at the time, told the Associated Press in a November 2002 story that the cuts to the governor’s office were an effort to balance the budget. But others speculated that the Dems knew Mazie Hirono, the Democratic candidate for governor, would likely lose the election so they cut the office’s budget to make it harder on Lingle.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle
Linda Lingle portrait
Lingle asked lawmakers when the session began in January 2003 to sign off on a $1 million emergency appropriation, which turned into a political battle with the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
The House cut her request in half, heavily scrutinizing and even mocking certain items she wanted; Lingle needed new furniture for the unfurnished governor’s mansion, according to news accounts.
The Senate ended up restoring a chunk of the funding, but a bill appropriating $838,000 didn’t reach her desk until late March — a month later than Abercrombie or Ige received their funding. By that point, Lingle was scrambling to figure out how she was going to pay staff and other expenses.
The point was made to the first Republican governor of Hawaii since 1962: She may have defeated Hirono, but Democrats ran this state.
“The emergency funding process became something less than an administrative courtesy; it became a chance to harass her,” University of Hawaii political science professor emeritus Neal Milner told Civil Beat.
“They made a routine thing non-routine,” Milner said. “They would never do that to a Democratic governor.”
Request Provided Few Details
Ige provided just a couple paragraphs of information to secure his $670,400.
“This emergency appropriation is being requested to cover the unbudgeted costs for vacation payouts of Governor’s office staff who departed from the former administration, payroll costs of staff who assisted the current Governor with his transition such as screening resumes, scheduling interviews of potential staff and Cabinet applicants, establishing essential office operations, and purchasing of supplies such as business cards for the Governor and new staff,” the governor’s office wrote in its testimony on the bill.
“Additionally, Governor Ige attended the new Governor’s conference sponsored by the National Governors Association in December, and will be attending the Spring conference shortly. The Governor’s office base budget did not include travel expenses for the Governor nor for the Chief of Staff to attend these meetings, nor for in-state travel for meetings and site inspections with neighbor islands. Finally, we would appreciate the legislature’s consideration in granting a protocol fund, so that the Governor may host office meetings on behalf of the State.”
That was enough for the Senate and House money committee chairs, Jill Tokuda and Sylvia Luke, respectively, to recommend passing the bill out unamended.
“Your Committee finds that this appropriation will cover these payroll shortfalls as well as support ongoing equipment leases, professional organization dues, travel expenses, and protocol expenses,” Tokuda wrote in her committee report, which was similar to Luke’s.
Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie speaks during an interview in 2014.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Asked why Ige and Abercrombie were treated differently than Lingle, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki only addressed Ige’s request, saying lawmakers needed to cover unanticipated expenses that were not included in the budget for the governor’s office.
“We realized that the governor’s office was underfunded,” said Saiki, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1994.
Abercrombie accompanied his 2011 request with a more detailed breakdown, including in his testimony how much money departing staff members were receiving in vacation payouts.
His office explained that the request included $365,000 for vacation payouts for the prior administration; $52,000 for a reimbursement to the Department of Accounting and General Services for laptops and networking of the office; and $12,000 for out-of-state travel for the governor, chief of staff, and his security detail for the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month.
A breakdown of how many vacation hours and the amount of money for each position was also provided in 2011. It showed a need to pay out 10,962 hours at a cost of $345,684. That included 299 vacation hours totaling $16,863 for Lingle and 790 vacation hours totaling $43,473 for her former chief of staff.
Ige paid roughly the same amount as Abercrombie did in vacation payouts upon taking office and securing his emergency appropriation.
The money went to staff members in the governor’s office for their unused vacation time. If they left state employment, they received a check for those hours, but if they went to work in another department the cash equivalent was transferred to that agency.
The limit on how much vacation time can be carried over year after year for state employees is much higher than most jobs in the private sector. The limit was 720 hours as of 2012, with no limit for carry-over of sick days. State employees start off with 21 vacation days and 21 days for sick leave.
Ige spent $359,000 on 34 vacation payouts and transfers.
The smallest check, $176, went to Abercrombie. The largest, $29,790, went to his chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, who’s now a lobbyist at the firm Capitol Consultants of Hawaii.
Here’s the complete list by position as of Tuesday, according to the governor’s office.
Chief of Staff
Director of Policy
Director of Operations
Director of Constituent Services
Deputy Chief of Staff
Senior Policy Advisor
Deputy Director of Communications
Workflow Systems Manager
Administrative Services Officer
Information Systems Coordinator
Boards and Commissions Researcher
Director of Communications
Constituent Services Representative
Director of EOEL
Digital Media Specialist
Constituent Services Representative
Boards and Commissions Manager
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues