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State Lawmakers Move to Delay Pay Raises Amid Pandemic

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AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy
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Hawai‘i lawmakers moved this week to delay pay raises that were due to go in effect for themselves, the governor, cabinet officials and judges — citing lingering economic struggles due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The timing is not the best right now for salary increases at these levels,” with Hawai‘i enduring the highest unemployment rate in the nation, House Speaker Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“We have a high number of commercial leases being canceled. There’s still some work we have to do for our economic reopening,” said Saiki, a Democrat.

Pay raises of 10% were scheduled to go into effect for state legislators July 1 as recommended by the state Salary Commission. Instead, SB 1350, which the House initially approved Tuesday, would defer the raises until January 2023.

Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, said he supported suspending the pay raises and noted he had already told his cabinet he wouldn't accept the raise recommended by the commission and asked his cabinet members to do the same.

"As public servants, it is our duty to do our part to help the state rebuild the economy, while keeping the health and safety of our community our top priority,” Ige said in a statement.

The salary commission made its recommendations in 2019, before the pandemic hit and while Hawai‘i recorded record tourism numbers. The Legislature last year deferred the increase because of the pandemic.

The pay raise would increase lawmaker salaries to $68,868 from $62,604.

They are considered part-time legislators, generally working from January to April or June during legislative sessions and many also have other jobs. But many also work on legislative issues throughout the year. The House speaker and Senate president would each earn an additional $7,500.

State Rep. Gene Ward, a Republican, said suspending the raises is “the right thing to do.”

The House was scheduled to vote once more on the bill on Thursday.

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