Hawaii Governor David Ige is preparing to slash teacher salaries by 20 percent as the state faces the grim financial realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
Inge laid out a plan at a Wednesday news conference to cut the pay of government workers, including teachers, by a fifth to address what’s expected to be a massive collapse of tax revenues in a state that relies heavily on a tourism industry sidelined by the deadly virus.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports:
Ige’s proposal would impose a 20% salary cut on most public employees including teachers as early as May 1, and a 10% cut in pay for first responders such as police officers, firefighters, nurses, and emergency medical technicians.
Financial experts have warned the state could lose up to 25 percent of tax revenues, more than double the economic impact from the Great Recession in 2009. The state budget predicted revenues to grow by 3 to 4 percent, and each percent translates to roughly $74 million, according to the Star-Advertiser.
Inge warned the state’s public sector unions about the possible pay cut on Tuesday, just months after negotiating more than $160 million in raises for the next two years. Those raises were virtually certain to pass the legislature weeks ago, but the pandemic forced lawmakers to reverse course.
“It’s pretty hard to justify any sort of raises at this point knowing that if we’re looking at a 10% to 25% reduction in state government, we just won’t be able to afford some of those raises,” Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz told the news site. “We may not be able to afford many of the programs.”
Union officials are furious over the situation and are pressuring lawmakers to tap into a rainy day fund and wait on a federal bailout before taking action.
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, blasted the pay cuts in a letter to members Tuesday, KHON reports.
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“This is unacceptable. While we recognize the coronavirus has already started to cripple Hawaii’s economy, no one can be sure of its long-term impacts. We believe cutting salaries for tens of thousands of state workers is rash and will hurt our state even more,” he wrote.
“A 20-percent salary reduction would result in the loss of between $600 and $1,800 in monthly income for our educators. Salaries for Hawaii’s public school educators are already low, and cutting an additional 20 percent will inevitably worsen Hawaii’s teacher shortage crisis, denying our keiki the quality educators they deserve.”
Instead of pay cuts, Rosenlee argued, the state should deplete all of its resources to keep union workers employed.
“We believe there are other options. Hawaii has access to additional resources. At the close of last fiscal year, Hawaii had a cash surplus and rainy day fund totaling more than $1 billion. Congress recently appropriated $863 million to our state government with hundreds of millions more for our counties as part of a $2 trillion stimulus package—and lawmakers are discussing additional stimulus funding,” he wrote.
“HSTA and other public sector unions have made it clear to the governor that this will exacerbate our weakening economy, hurt government employees, and potentially prolong this crisis.
“We stand united and will not accept the governor’s plan without exploring every last alternative to keep these harmful cuts from happening.”