The Aloha United Way commissioned “ALICE REPORT: A STUDY OF FINANCIAL HARDSHIP IN HAWAII” determined than in 2017, 11% of Hawaii residents were living in poverty while another 37% exist on its very edge, only one paycheck away from financial disaster.
Every Hawaii legislator serving in the Hawaii State Senate, and in the House of Representatives will receive a pay raise, starting in January of 2021. Likewise every member of the County Council, directors of county and state agencies, the mayor, the governor, the lieutenant governor, and state judges — ALL THOSE IN POSITIONS OF POWER IN GOVERNMENT WILL RECEIVE A PAY INCREASE.
While legislators and top government executives are lined up for generous pay increases, OUR STATE LEGISLATURE MADE A CONSCIOUS DECISION ON APRIL 26 OF 2019 TO GIVE MINIMUM WAGE WORKERS NOTHING — ZIP, NADA, ZERO.
The State Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), has determined that $17.50 per hour (approximately) is a “subsistence” wage for a single person. This means that a person needs to make $17.50 an hour to simply survive.
The minimum wage in Hawaii sits now at $10.10 per hour.
During the 2019 legislative session several bills were introduced intending to both increase the minimum wage, and to help small business.
Multiple hearings were held in the House and Senate. Thousands of people from all walks of life testified in support, many took off from work to do so in person and others paid to fly in from the neighbor islands. Countless hours were spent by many, waiting patiently for the committee to eventually call their name to offer testimony.
Though the data collected in the years following past increases in Hawaii’s minimum wage shows unequivocally that there has been no subsequent increase in unemployment, no increases in bankruptcies and no related increases in inflation — the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce insisted the sky would fall if the minimum wage was increased further.
It was the State House of Representatives who ultimately pulled the plug during the final days of conference committee. The excuse given, was that a provision intended to help business was, to paraphrase, “possibly flawed and not ready” and “there was not enough time remaining in the session to fix it.”
Rather than pass a stand-alone, strong but reasonable, minimum wage measure that phased in a $15 per hour wage over several years — the joint House/Senate Conference Committee swallowed the poison pill provided to them by the business community, and killed the entire measure.
The consequences are real.
Legislators will get their raises, but minimum wage workers will get nothing.
Wait until next year, submit another bill and we will try again during the 2020 session, is the familiar but somewhat disingenuous refrain.
The reality is that legislators have had many months now since the close of the session to work out the kinks, to meet with stakeholders, staff and the administration. They could and should have, (and hopefully actually have) come to an agreement by now on a clean bill, that can be passed promptly upon the opening of the 2020 legislative session.
There is no rule, law or any valid reason that the community should have to “submit another bill,” and go through the entire process again.
Though the past practice of the legislature may be to force the community to start again at the beginning and go through the entire process again, it is totally unnecessary to do so — except to perhaps accommodate the desire of the Senate president and the House speaker, should they decide to require it.
The legislature operates on a two-year cycle and every bill submitted in 2019, unless outright killed in a vote — is still alive.
There is no legal requirement to “start over from the beginning.” The legislature can merely pick up bills exactly where they were left off at the end of the 2019 legislative session.
HB1191,HD1,SD2 increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage to $15 remains in conference committee.
Upon the opening of the 2020 legislative session, with the concurrence of the Senate president and the House speaker, the committee can simply be reconvened, a hearing scheduled and the measure amended and passed.
I am hopeful that when the Legislature opens on Jan, 15, that this in fact will be what occurs. There is no reason to force thousands of citizens to jump through the hoops of multiple hearings in the House and Senate, to take off of work, arrange child care and possibly incur the cost of traveling interisland — only to end up in exactly the same place.
However, as someone who has a bit of experience in these matters, I am keenly aware that hopefulness is no substitute for old fashioned political advocacy.
So please, if increasing the minimum wage is important to you, contact Senate President Ronald Kouchi firstname.lastname@example.org and Speaker of the House Representative Scott Saiki repsaiki@Capitol.hawaii.gov today.
Ask them please, respectfully and politely, to reconvene the conference committee for HB1191,HD1,SD2 and pass a strong minimum wage increase of at least $15 per hour as the first order of business of the 2020 legislative session.
While not a living wage, nor even a subsistence wage — $15 per hour represents a strong step in the right direction. If tied to annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) as well as future incremental modest increases, eventually a true living wage could be achieved.
Imagine that. A future where every Hawaii resident who works a 40-hour week can afford a dry, safe place to live, three meals a day and basic health care.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.