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Hawaii House to Vote on Pay Raises for Legislative Members

By Max Dible
April 13, 2021, 12:37 PM HST
* Updated April 13, 12:53 PM
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Scott Saiki. Courtesy photo.

Hawai´i lawmakers are scheduled to receive two salary increases over the next several months, but a recently introduced floor amendment now appears likely to delay the action.

House Speaker Scott Saiki on Tuesday announced that he had introduced the amendment to suspend a recommendation by the Commission on Salaries to increase the annual compensation for the governor and his cabinet, judges, and state legislators in both the House and Senate.

If passed, the suspension will run through Dec. 31, 2022, but will not eliminate the salary increases. A vote was expected as part of the House floor session that began at 10 am Tuesday.

The raises were recommended by the Commission in 2019, prior to the start of the pandemic. After an initial delay, they were subsequently scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022.

The slated salary hikes are currently set for 10% in July and another 2.5% next January. Together, they would increase the compensation of state legislators from $62,604 to $70,584. The House Speaker and the Senate President, who make more money than other lawmakers annually, would see a salary bump from $70,104 to $79,044.

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Multiple sources at the Capitol have told Big Island Now they expect the floor amendment to pass and the salary hikes to be delayed again. Based on the Commission’s recommendations, the 10% pay raise was initially to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, but was pushed back to July as legislators grew squeamish of accepting more money while the state’s economy simultaneously crumbled around the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The introduction of Tuesday’s amendment by the House Speaker indicates at least a temporary sea change in Honolulu, as Civil Beat reported in March that Saiki had continued to push for accepting the raises during private sessions with other legislators — even as the pandemic raged on.

According to the CB report, Saiki’s rationale was that it had been a long while since legislators had received a pay increase and public support for the always unpopular move of politicians raising their own salaries was never likely to improve.

Saiki’s thought processes have clearly changed, possibly influenced by the optics of pushing through pay bumps for government officials while those same individuals are advocating for several tax hikes on the public and remain inactive on raising Hawai´i’s minimum wage rate.

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The state’s minimum wage has been $10.10 per hour for the previous three years, and Hawai´i’s effective tax rate is already among the highest in the nation.

Some legislators, like the Big Island’s Jeanné Kapela (District 5), came out publicly against the pay hikes before Saiki’s floor amendment Tuesday.

“The fact that legislators feel that they deserve a pay raise is really just unconscionable,” Kapela told Civil Beat in March. “You can truly call it morally repugnant, just absolutely awful.”

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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