Gov. Ige continues push to furlough state workers

Coronavirus

HONOLUU (KHON2) — The governor is continuing to push the option of furloughs for state workers as the state’s economy continues to freefall due to the pandemic. He needs to send a proposal to the state legislature by Dec. 20, but a key lawmaker says there are ways to avoid the pay cuts.

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Gov. David Ige has told the unions he wants to furlough state workers two days per month for the next four years, which amounts to approximate 10% pay cut. The chairwoman of the House Finance Committee says there are ways to put off the furloughs for at least a couple of years.

“In our estimation, the furlough discussion is premature because where we actually see, in fact a more severe hit, would be in 2023,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke.

Luke says the state faces a budget shortfall of up to $1.8 billion over the next two years. It would have been more, but the governor took out a $750 million loan in November, 2020. She says the state can offset some of the shortfall by not filling positions left open by workers who retire, approximately 2,000 workers per year.

She says that adds up to more than a billion dollars when combined with unspent funds from special programs. She admits the next few years will still be difficult, but the state can avoid the worst case scenario: layoffs.

“Certain cuts in certain programs will be inevitable and it may have to be reductions in certain programs or consolidation of programs,” said Luke.

Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira sent a statement saying, “Wage cuts will likely spin us into a recession, making our already weak economy fall off a fiscal cliff … will have a devastating social impact on our state.”

Even emergency workers are raising alarms about possible cuts. The state-funded Maui County Paramedics Association says, “The threat of losing emergency services in the middle of a pandemic is dangerously shortsighted, and very real … and will make it ‘okay’ to make people wait longer for help when they call 911.”

The governor sent a statement saying, “For the first time in Hawai’i’s history, the state had to borrow $750 million through bonds to help make payroll. I have always said furloughs would be a last resort, and yes, unfortunately, it’s still on the table. We are looking at all options. Every department and agency will be impacted as we work to balance the state’s budget.”

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