On Monday, the Civil Beat Editorial Board published an editorial entitled, “Hawaii Legislature Should Not Delay Tough Calls.” In the editorial, Civil Beat argued that the current plan being drafted by the Hawaii Legislature does not call for “shared sacrifice.”

Instead, the only sacrifice recommended by the Civil Beat Editorial Board was from public employees, mainly focused on pay cuts. Across the state, we have first responders potentially sacrificing their lives, but evidently, according to the Civil Beat Editorial Board, their lives are not enough of a shared sacrifice, and their pay should be cut as well.

For other government employees, including public school educators, the short-term decisions we make now will have long-term devastating impacts. An analysis by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization suggests that “a cut of 20% to State salaries would lead to a drop in GDP (gross domestic product) of $3.3 billion over the 2020-2022 period. This reflects a spending ‘multiplier’ of 1.5 — that is the likelihood that every $1 reduction in state salary outlays results in a $1.50 reduction in overall economic activity here.”

Besides these economists studying Hawaii’s current situation, history should be our guide, as I have learned in more than 20 years as a social studies teacher. After the Great Depression, we gained the knowledge that one of the worst things you can do during an economic downturn is to constrict the money supply.

HSTA Teacher march to Hawaii State Capitol in the Rotunda. 13 feb 2017
Teachers marched to the Hawaii State Capitol in February 2017 to rally for financial support. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When it comes to education, Hawaii already has a teacher shortage crisis of more than 1,000 teacher vacancies each year, something that a pay cut will surely exacerbate. Reducing their pay will force many veteran teachers to retire. In addition, many beginning and mid-career teachers will not be able to afford to live in Hawaii.

A 20% pay cut would mean that hundreds of unlicensed teachers would earn less annually than substitutes. The combination of these factors may lead to a situation where we do not have enough educators, forget qualified teachers, to open classrooms in the fall. How will the economy reopen if our keiki can’t go to school?

Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects of the Great Recession and the resulting budget cuts to education led to drastically fewer prospective teachers going into education, cutting those numbers in half. Sadly, education funding across the nation has still not recovered enough to reach 2009 levels.

The long-term impacts of worsening the teacher shortage and being unable to provide all children, regardless of wealth, a qualified teacher will only perpetuate inequality in classrooms across the state and around the country.

We all must be there for each other.

Recognizing potential long-term consequences, legislators in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., are taking action to prevent this health and economic crisis from getting worse. The Democrats in Congress have proposed a $3 trillion bill, which includes $1 trillion for states and municipalities, and a $200 billion “Heroes Fund” to extend hazard pay to essential workers.

Leaders in Hawaii’s state House and Senate have also shown true leadership by recrafting the budget, using rainy day funds and a number of other financial sources to make sure we can keep our state workers on the job and stabilize our economy.

What the Civil Beat’s editorial board gets wrong is its belief that “sharing the pain” is akin to a bucket full of crabs pulling each other down so all of them suffer. Instead, we need to help each other.

Hawaii needs to pay its state employees so they can patronize the restaurants, shops, and businesses which in turn can support our teachers, nurses, custodians, professors, and firefighters.

In this time of need, we all must be there for each other and that is how we will get out of this crisis.

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