TAXWatch: And We Aren’t Moving People Around Because?

On March 5, our Governor issued a Proclamation declaring our current state of emergency.  The proclamation suspends several laws, including chapters 89 and 89C, HRS, relating to collective bargaining and public officers and employees excluded from collective bargaining, to the extent necessary to, among other things, “provide for the interchange of personnel, by detail, transfer, or otherwise, between agencies or departments of the State.”  This proclamation is signed by both the Governor and the Attorney General.

On April 3, the Director of the Department of Human Resources Development told a Special Senate Committee that the Departments of Defense, Health, and Agriculture have said they need help.  This is in addition to the DLIR and DBEDT, which support labor and business. He also says that the Governor hasn’t decided how to implement the suspension of the collective bargaining laws.  (Earlier that same week, he was quoted as saying he was unaware that the collective bargaining laws were suspended at all.) He says that the call has gone out for volunteers to lend a hand at other agencies.

Also, on April 3, the Governor’s chief of staff told the same committee that the Attorney General is researching whether it’s possible to redeploy workers who have been told to stay home with pay.

Wait a minute.  We have to pay people not to work when other departments urgently need help?  

From the very first proclamation, the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General contemplated this very issue, namely how to “provide for the interchange of personnel, by detail, transfer, or otherwise, between agencies or departments of the State.”  That proclamation suspended the collective bargaining laws to the extent they were in the way. So, we had some brain power focused on how to move people between departments – an issue they were anticipating – and now they aren’t doing it but instead are paying people to stay home?  If, as I suspect, the plan was to move bodies around during the emergency, but the plan was walked back after someone expressed some doubt, I think there needs to be more decisive action. It brings back memories of Mauna Kea – which we wrote about a few weeks ago.  

Why do we expect the problem to be solved, or partially solved, by volunteers?  If you were paid the same amount to (1) stay home and not work, or (2) stay home and work and/or come in to work, which would you do?  Certainly, there are some with a compassionate heart and an altruistic spirit that would choose #2. However, I suspect that they would be in the minority.

We need to lay down the law.

State workers whose talents are needed in another department need to go there and not make a fuss.  Those who think they are being treated unfairly can sort this out when we aren’t in a state of emergency.  If the perceived problem is a state law that requires us taxpayers to pay for no work, let’s suspend that law, because it is impeding efforts to deal with the emergency.  State workers who don’t want to work and don’t qualify for special paid sick leave under the new federal laws can use their vacation time – most have plenty of it – for that purpose.  In other words, those who want a vacation use vacation time. Those who want to help our State get through this emergency should do so and be paid for it. They will be much better off than thousands of us in the private sector who either can’t work (a server in a restaurant, for example) or can’t get paid (such as the owner of a small business that has been ordered closed).  But we just can’t afford to pay people for nothing, especially now.

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Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.