PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

October 29, 2009

Special Committee Testimony Addressing Teacher Furloughs

Filed under: 5Economics,HI Politics,Legislature — frosty @ 7:51 pm

Below is testimony I’ve submitted for a special committee hearing to consider approaches to deal with the teacher furloughs.

Aloha Senators,

I am here, testifying before you today, on behalf of the Progressive Democrats of Hawaii (PDH).

Let me begin by applauding those Senators who have signed the petition to convene a Special Session of the Legislature to immediately address the financial crisis that continues to plague our state. I believe those Senators truly understand the immediate urgency resulting from the teacher furloughs and that this issue cannot wait to be addressed by the Legislature during the next regular session.

When times were good, our Department of Education (DOE) was struggling to provide a decent education for our children. Test scores in Hawaii repeatedly posted below the national average. And now that the DOE, put between a rock and a hard place by our Governor and this Legislature, has been forced to shorted the school year by 17 instructional days, making our school year the shortest in the nation. This unfortunate and shortsighted decision will only serve to compound problems already facing our state’s educational system.

While the State looks at these as cost saving measures, all the government is really doing is shifting costs on to parents, students, and employers who are already struggling through these hard times. With children out of school two Fridays a month, parents are forced to look for costly alternatives such as daycare, or taking time off of work to look after their children who should be in school learning.

As our economy shrinks, citizens look to the State to provide stability solutions. While the Governor works to shrink the State’s payroll by furloughing teachers and other State employees, she may find savings to close the budget gap, but what she’s doing for certain is exacerbating an already troubled economy by reducing income for employees, as well as its revenue stream through taxes by decreasing salaries. This is a wrongheaded and shortsighted strategy for dealing with our budget crisis.

We urge the Legislature to convene a Special Session so that alternative and reasonable solutions ca be suggested and debated. Among the options which might be considered are:

  • Tapping the Rainy Day Fund for some short-term budget relief
  • Tapping the Hurricane Fund
  • Raise the General Excise Tax 0.5% to 1.0% to increase tax revenues and evenly distribute the burden across all sections of our residents. Additionally, certain exemptions, such as on food, could be included to ease the burden on those low-income families.
  • Create a tax on such products like sugary beverages, like soda, on fast food and other unhealthy products. This would have the duel effect of creating another ‘sin tax,’ in addition to tobacco and alcohol.

Mahalo for calling this hearing and for your time.

Funds raised by these options could be used as matching funds against funds being offered by the Federal government, funds the Governor has not bothered to apply for.

There are better ways and more effective methods available to us to solve these difficult problems and I want to thank you for not sitting idly by while the situation worsens and the education and future of our children is threatened. It is up to you, and your fellow legislators to immediately convene a Special Session and work quickly to deal with these problems.

During this financial crisis, the Federal government is working to improve the situation by stimulating the economy through increased spending. This tactic injects money into the economy by putting it in the hands of consumers and by creating jobs for workers. By cutting spending, the Federal stimulus cannot work to their full potential and cuts its benefits. And meanwhile, we are cutting spending on worthwhile projects, like educating our children.

Josh Frost
Co-Chair
Progressive Democrats of Hawaii

7 Comments »

  1. I’m with you (us) except on the hurricane fund. It’s pitiably small but could still be used in a catastrophic situation. Kauai STILL has not recovered fully from Iniki. FEMA is better than it used to be, but it does not come close to making one whole.

    On the Island of Hawaii, Kawaihae Harbor is in seriously weak condition. It lost capacity in the last earthquake. If a hurricane took it out, our island would quickly run short on more than toilet paper. We would lose much of our food (think rice, a big staple here). We’d lose getting all fuels. We’d lose getting major parts for repairs of public infrastructure.

    Aloha to all.

    Comment by Anika Glass — October 31, 2009 @ 11:10 am

  2. I don’t like any of the alternatives. It’s a bad time for more taxes in this bad economy. But I’d like to see selective applications of a carbon tax. For example, a one-time tax on clunkers whenever one is sold– excluding antiques. A tax on generation by fossil fuel plants. etc. The carbon tax revenue would be used for education.

    Comment by Al Toda — November 3, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  3. Al, I don’t think your suggestions are broad enough to really have any effect. What’s more, I’m not sure either are specific enough to be clear. For example, who defines what a ‘clunker’ is? Any car that isn’t a hybrid or other alternative-type car? Many, if not all, hybrids are cost prohibitive for much of the middle and working classes. An additional tax on a non-hybrid is nothing more than a tax on the middle and working classes.

    I like the idea of a carbon tax, but I’d much rather see that revenue put into building green industry in hawaii and green jobs. This would also help bolster the economy.

    The State cannot sustain itself on the ever-shrinking tax revenues being generated. Public sector workers, generally, weren’t making a whole lot of money to begin with and now that they have been furloughed, they’ll have even less, if any at all, disposable income. Their spending will shrink, as will the taxes collected from their paychecks by the State. This strategy does nothing to solve our immediate economic problems and in fact exacerbates the problem.

    A small GET increase will do much more to stabilize the economy than furloughs and the burden will be evenly distributed across all sections of Hawaii residents, not just the middle and lower income residents.

    Comment by frosty — November 4, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

  4. An income tax adjustment would do even more… take a look at some of the commentary on this topic provided by Ian Lind.

    http://ilind.net/2009/11/04/tax-foundation-commentary-calls-publicly-funded-university-system-an-archaic-approach-to-higher-education/

    He says: “Those politically popular tax cuts of 1999 are what set us up for this crisis by undermining the tax base year after year. You could see the crisis coming. All it needed was a bit of outside stimulus and here we are, a billion bucks down.”
    http://ilind.net/2009/10/25/reporting-on-the-continuing-budget-crisis/

    And previously said:
    “For most of the past decade, Hawaii’s highest income earners paid a top income tax rate of 8.25%, well below the 10% paid up until 1999. Here’s a chart of the rollbacks in tax rates passed in 1998. It was not until this year that the legislature reversed those cuts and adopted new higher rates for those earning more than $300,000 annually, passing the bill over the governor’s veto.

    While Lingle had harsh words for the bill, it was largely simply reversing the cuts made a decade ago.”
    http://ilind.net/2009/07/07/tuesdaymore-on-the-budget-scene/

    Comment by rachel — November 4, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  5. A carbon tax doesn’t only have to be on clunkers. I see it as a great revenue generator to bring about a great reduction in carbon emissions. In fact, a common criticism is that it would be too expensive. However, I see it as a better alternative to a cap and trade system, which has a potential for fraud, but worse, it does not lend itself to a bottom line calculation of the alternatives to carbon emission. I think that the clunker thing is a good example.

    Regarding clunkers, I would prefer a kind of broad definition so that no matter what type of car a person likes there is an alternative that is more green and will not cost him/her anymore than what they would otherwise pay. For example, rather than junk a car, it costs about $6000 to convert it to a cheap electric car. And this money stays mostly in the state. So this kind of personal choice is very good for our economy. I don’t do much commuting but I still pay about $50 a month on gasoline for a fuel efficient car (about 28mpg). If I commuted, then I might pay back the cost of the conversion in two or three years. If I used 5 year batteries, then in two more years I would have paid the cost of new batteries. Over a period of five years this alternative is free and only the costs of electricity are placed on my budget(ie that’s the only cost to the miles I drive). It’s similar to getting 400 mpg with a plug-in hybrid but paying $20,000. I don’t know if I would ever break even on the costs of the hybrid. BTW, I using rough estimates here, but I sure any careful consideration would shows similar results. Point is that with a carbon tax, everyone of us needs to do this calculation, or pay attention to someone who does do it.

    Comment by Al Toda — November 22, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

  6. I don’t understand why Lingle didn’t go ahead with her plan to raise about $1Billion in bonds for shovel ready products. That might have brought in about a $100 Million in revenue from taxes?

    Comment by Al Toda — November 25, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  7. I am/was confused by these comments. They’re really for the furloughs thing and not the environment stuff?

    I like your furlough comments. But I think that we should have the DOE receive a separate funding to run and maintain the schools. It seems to me the BOE and DOE expects the state to bail them out with funds to meet their budget. Their lack of independence leads them to poor bargaining. They don’t demand the professionalism from the union that they normally expect from teachers when they deal with them on a 1-1 basis at each school.

    There was an unprofessional choice here that the union made to take furloughs from instructional rather than non-instructional hours. Moreover, there seems to be a problem with non-instructional hours. These are for professional improvement so that the school can meet its NCLB goals. Like the students who are not accountable for their HST scores, teachers are not accountable for the school goals. I think that they might accomplish more with a university style of management with a lot of collegiality.

    I was listening to a talk from a Google programmer today. They have a system similar to a university. They have no supervisors in the sense of the normal workplace. They have an extensive network of collegiality and peer review. They do not have project managers in the sense of Microsoft. Neither do they have program manager or product manager, one level higher, in the traditional sense. Their managers are not from marketing. They all have strong technical backgrounds and have the people skills to sell people on the project and program or product. Engineers/programmers can all take exception to the project or program manager to the goals of the project since the poor personnel evaluation from a project manager is not considered as important as a poor peer evaluation. The manager’s evaluation of a programmer/engineer is considered to be more a difference in opinions with the engineer/programmer.

    It’s the managers that bring in the money for the company, but it’s the engineers/programmers that design/implement the products or changes that really run the place. Similarly, perhaps teachers at schools can elect department chairs or coordinators from their members to run the teaching part of the school– ie setup teaching goals and convince teachers to accept them. Chairs would also coordinate peer evaluation, but the teacher (especially a senior one) could take exception to the dept goals and the chair’s evaluation of him/herself. The school principal and his staff would administer the whole school’s and all department programs and projects. It brings more anarchy to the school but it represents a tighter network of peer judgment/evaluation for each teacher. For the new teachers, if the network can form the mentoring that takes place at a university, then it would also be very beneficial for the new teacher. Chairs and coordinators would be analogous to project managers while the principal and his staff would be analogous to a program or product manager.

    Comment by Al — December 30, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

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