Hawai‘i Government Officials Due Salary Increases

August 6, 2019, 8:22 AM HST (Updated August 7, 2019, 4:25 AM)
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The “common man” doesn’t earn six figures per year, but the state’s public servants and elected officials do. In addition, the governor, judges, senators and representatives in Hawai‘i are all expecting pay raises.

House Bill 1191, which would increase Hawai‘i’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023 and provide a tax cut to small businesses to offset the increase, made it to its second reading before failing to advance in 2019.

Lawmakers decided to deal with this issue next year; however, neither the governor nor the legislature decided to vote down their own pay increases this year—raises recommended by the State Salary Commission. Instead, raises for the governor, judges, senators and representatives automatically went into effect in July.

The State Salary Commission recommended a 10% salary bump for all 74 state lawmakers in both the Senate and the House by 2021. They will also receive a 2.5% raise every year after until 2024.

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Senators and representatives currently make $62,604 for their part-time positions and are expecting to see a raise every year until 2024, when they will make $74,160.

The president of the Senate and Speaker of the House will see their salaries increase from $70,104 to $83,052. These raises alone will use an additional $485,000 out of the fiscal budget for this year and increase each year after that.

In 1990, $100 dollars had the equivalent purchasing power to $187 dollars in 2017. The argument for increasing salaries is to keep up with inflation; however, in 1990, representatives and senators made $27,000 and by 2017 their salaries had increased to $61,380, a 227% increase versus the 187% increase caused by inflation.

The Hawai‘i Supreme Court, Intermediate Court of Appeals and District Court judges are also expecting raises, thanks to the State Salary Commission’s recommendation.

Trial court judicial salaries have already increased by 50% in Hawai‘i in the last decade, putting the state at the second highest increase in the nation, just behind New York.

The national average for circuit court judges is $157,404, making Hawai‘i judges who earn $205,080 per year the third highest paid judges in the nation.

Circuit court judges are expecting to see their salary increase to $217,104 in the next six years. Intermediate Appellate Court Judges (currently making $210,780) already make 125% higher salaries than the national average for their position.

Governors in the United States make anywhere from $70,000 to $191,000 per year, plus, of course, the perks that come with the job, which often include free lifetime healthcare and tax-payer supplied vehicles and jets.

Gov, David Ige is the 12th highest paid governor in the nation, making $158,000 a year, and is expecting a 4% increase next year and a 2.5% raise the next couple years after that, putting him at $189,480 by 2024.

The Hawai‘i County Salary Commission is also discussing union-negotiated raises for the top 40 county officials. These increases would come from the 2019 fiscal budget, of which 70% already goes to salaries, benefits, retirement and old debt payments.

The mayor, county council, department heads and deputies and prosecuting attorney last saw raises in 2017 that ranged from increases of 13.2% to 39.7%.

Mayors earn anywhere from $300,000 in large cities to $8,400 in small cities such as Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mayor Harry Kim, who oversees a population of approximately 200,983, is expecting to see his pay raise to $168,223—meaning he will be making over 20 times more than the mayor of Winston-Salem, population 246,328.

Kirk Caldwell, mayor of the City and County of Honolulu (population 980,000) was making $200,000 as of 2019.

The Fire Commission is declining to recommend raises this year because they feel the budget is already heavily depleted from recent disasters.

The discussion was held on June 27, 2019.

Sierra Hägg
Sierra is a recent graduate of William S. Richardson School of Law. She grew up in Puna and attended Christian Liberty Academy. She went on to get a major in psychology and minor in political science from the University of California, Davis.
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