Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to HB 200.
It is a quiet assumption that when you vote against a bill in this chamber, that you are not supporting the Chair of a particular committee who made the final decision. Mr. Speaker, I am voting against this budget for no such reason.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, I am voting against this budget because I wholeheartedly support the chair and the finance members, finance staff, and you, Mr. Speaker. This weekend, I just couldn’t sleep, and that often happens when my gut feels that something is so terribly wrong. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but where they ought to be.”
I am voting against this budget because we failed to follow you, Mr. Speaker, to where we needed to go to solve this crisis. I will stand with you. Mr. Speaker we killed all your labor related bills early in the session that would have prevented us from raising taxes and firing good people.
Even ideas that asked state employees to sacrifice as little as $14 a month, but would have saved the state $30 million dollars, was killed in committee leaving the finance chair and staff very little wiggle room to close the budget gap. If employees and legislators just donated one day a month to working without pay, the state could save almost $100 million. This is also off the table.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that it was not the intention of the members to reject your solutions entirely. Decisions were made in the labor committee based on not being given the whole picture. To quote my friend from across the isle, maybe the lack of information had all of our heads in the sand about the realities that we were faced with. Sitting on the finance committee, the crisis became very real.
Mr. Speaker, Chair Oshiro, my fellow members of the finance committee and to the finance staff, I have been deeply honored to have served with you. You are some of the hardest working people I have ever met, and I know that you did everything in your power to find a balanced budget based on what you were given. Thank you for all that you have done.
With the council on revenues last week projecting another huge shortfall, our new total
that we must find is almost $1 billion. This is a staggering shortfall of projected revenues for such a small state. This is the largest budget shortfall in Hawaii history.
Today, this budget before us is now obsolete. And so we must bring back solutions that were previously off the table.
Ms. Speaker, we have almost 100,000 residents in the state of Hawaii who have been blessed by the taxpayer to either have pay raises almost every year, superior benefits packages or a steady retirement income. These generous benefits make up over 60% of our state budget, that is one of the highest ratios in the nation.
State employees are in a unique position to help save Hawaii from our economic crisis. Just a little sharing of resources by state workers can go a long way to ease the overwhelming burden that Hawaii families are feeling and will feel when this legislature convenes in May.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that union members too, did not know the full extent of the crisis that we were in when they came to the capitol to fight against any bill that touched their benefits. I also believe that these very same members would rather give a little than to see their friends lose their jobs and taxes increased on the people of Hawaii.
Mr. Speaker, we must revive, some of your labor bills to the floor that were killed in the labor committee to share the burden. Yes, this may be leading us to where we may not want to go, but it is exactly where to need to be to prevent a total shut down of state government, and tax increases that will cripple our economy.
Political will and union support could help revive the bills. Just passing the buck to the governor to negotiate with unions ensures that only she has to make the difficult choices.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I love football, and being that I am catholic and I am part Irish, I love Norte Dame. Their famous coach Lou Holtz said something that we can all live by today, “To solve big problems you have to be willing to do unpopular things.”
That is what we did in the finance committee. We were asked by leadership to put everything on the table. Tax increases were proposed. Government spending was cut. Over 300 of our friends in state government will no longer have jobs. The finance committee even cut worthy programs. We cut the Disability and Communication Access Board, which my good friend and first campaign manager is a member of.
He is a disabled Vietnam veteran just shy a few votes from being awarded the medal of honor for his heroism. I am sure many of you have seen him riding around the capitol in his electric
wheelchair, so happy to be the voice of so many of our disabled.
The finance staff with a heavy heart recommended the cut because it duplicated other programs already in existence. And with a heavy heart, I voted for this cut, Mr. Speaker. And to my friend Mark, I hope one day, you will forgive me for the tough decision that I had to make. I am very sorry.
We all need to share in these tough decisions, even if it means that we have to go to our biggest supporters and say, This year I can’t help you, instead, I need you to just this once, give up just a little to help all of Hawaii.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, this is an extraordinary time that requires brave leadership, and maybe we are all here specifically for this very moment in time to show the people of Hawaii, that we are willing to do whatever it takes to help them, and that we are even willing to sacrifice our own political careers to do what is right.
On page 9 on the Finance Committee Report for HB 200, it says, “during times of financial crisis, the burden of sacrifice must be shared by all.” In this spirit, let’s begin this today.