by Rep Charles Djou
As you may know, I enjoy discussing new policies that can improve our community's life far more than politics and campaigns. Below is an editorial I wrote that was published in today's Sunday Honolulu Star Advertiser. It explains the need for civil service reform and how far behind Hawaii is compared to the rest of the nation. As Gov. Neil Abercrombie touts a 5% pay cut "deal" with the public employee union, we discover it actual is a net spending increase. Even worse the Abercrombie deal gives 30 days of paid vacation, 21 days of paid sick leave and 14 paid holidays to government workers PER YEAR! We need more private sector jobs, not more government spending.
I also wanted to give you a heads up of a new company - Phone Medic Hawaii. This firm as started by my former Congressional Chief of Staff, Kenny Amazaki. Kenny is doing what we see far too little of in Hawaii - creating a small business. If you have a problem with your cell phone, I encourage you to see Kenny at 2570 S. Beretania St., Ste. 207 or call him at ph. (808) 589-8899.
The Hawaii Legislature and the county councils are all struggling with enormous budget deficits this year. Elected officials are actually considering multiple job-killing tax increases to close these fiscal gaps, but we have heard nothing about the elephant on the table – civil service reform.
About 70% of the cost of running the state and each of the county governments comes from wages and benefits for government workers. The cost of running government in Hawaii has become far greater than what our local residents can afford. As Hawaii’s politicians try to find a way to spend as much as they want, they are failing to look at the one measure that could actually make a long term difference in fiscal affairs by refusing to hold any serious discussion on civil service reform.
The last time Hawaii had a real conversation about reforming the civil service system was in 1999 lead by then Democrat Governor Ben Cayetano. Gov. Cayetano understood that if Hawaii wants to continue its generous social programs over the long term, the only way we can possibly afford to do so would be to reform and modernize the Hawaii’s antiquated administration of public employees.
Sadly, almost all of Cayetano’s proposals were voted down by a legislature more afraid of the public employee unions than the long term fiscal health of our community. Those few meager reforms that were enacted were reversed in subsequent years when the public employee unions brought their political muscle to bear at the elections and picked off all of the few pro-reform legislators one-by-one.
Today in 2011, state governments around the nation are confronting the need to reform their civil service systems that were largely crafted in the mid-20th Century. Although Republican governors across the nation are pushing for civil service reform, even in Democrat-controlled states like New York and California, reforming civil service is being actively discussed. Democrats like former Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee and President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, are actually the most forceful advocates for reforming the civil service system in public education.
Only in Hawaii, with one-party rule and elections dictated by the powerful government labor unions are our politicians in denial about the pressing need for meaningful reform.
Hawaii needs a more flexible and dynamic personnel system for government workers.
- Hawaii should shift its generous public employee retirement system away from a ‘defined-benefit’ pension structure to a ‘defined-contribution’ system similar to a 401(k) plan that virtually every private company in Hawaii has already done.
- Hawaii needs a more privatization that allows the government to contract with private businesses to continue to provide public services to the people where it saves money.
- Our government also should reform the personnel structure away from the ridged seniority system and give managers greater flexibility to dismiss underperforming employees, but also give bonuses to star public servants.
- The state and county governments need to end needless duplication of services in areas ranging from road maintenance to economic development.
- Finally, the county governments should each be allowed to negotiate their wages and benefits for their own employees and not be required to sign the exact same union contracts as the state government, as is now required by law.
These are common sense reforms that private business adopted years ago that can actually save the taxpayers money and still provide vital services to our community.
As you file your taxes this month, consider that the legislature and county councils are balancing their budgets with your money. Without long term reform to our civil service system, however, it will only be a function of time before Hawaii will land in yet another fiscal crisis and your government will take still more of your hard earned wages. As long as the Hawaii’s elected officials are more afraid of the public employee unions’ special interest than your family, Hawaii residents will just have to watch as the rest of the nation move forward on reform.