Key lawmaker says furloughs for state workers inevitable

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — State workers unions have been told by the governor to brace for the possibility of furloughs starting in December. The proposal so far amounts to about a 10% pay cut that could last for four years.

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While the cuts can still be negotiated, key lawmakers say the furloughs are inevitable.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, says the numbers do not lie. The state faces a budget deficit of $1.4-$1.7 billion a year for each of the next four years.

Unions say they have met with the governor, who proposed furloughs for state workers of two days a month for the next four years, starting in December. Because of the pandemic, Dela Cruz says the economy has been in a freefall. So the governor is also looking at other proposals.

“He’s also looking at additional cuts about $655 million and also looking at possibly borrowing about $750 million from the feds,” said Dela Cruz.

Unions say first responders, such as nurses and corrections officers, will not be furloughed. The union for public school teachers sent an email to its members saying, “Your negotiations team met last night to discuss these developments and stands ready to advocate strongly for you at the bargaining table in the weeks ahead.”

Dela Cruz points out that avoiding the furloughs will be difficult. He says even if tourism reopens on Oct. 15, that might not be enough to offset such a huge deficit.

“The negative percentages that we took over this fiscal year are so extreme that we’re gonna be in a shortfall for a while,” he said.

He adds that this should be a wake up call for the state to become less dependent on tourism dollars, and really work toward diversifying the economy. He is calling on the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and other state agencies to create new opportunities.

“We got to bring in revenue into the state, there’s high-tech, there’s other types of maybe simple manufacturing, there’s energy jobs other than solar. Solar provides construction but we really need long term operating jobs so that we can put people back to work,” said Dela Cruz.

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