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HOOSER: State House thumbs noses at working class

The House of Representatives in Hawai‘i is essentially telling that man under the bridge: “too bad, too sad. Get a second or third job, or do whatever, just suck it up and stop complaining.”

“We’ve got ours and we’re going to protect those that have given it to us, so accept your lot in life and keep out of sight, please. As long as you stay out of sight, we will leave you alone.But if you start cluttering up our sidewalks, we will be forced to sweep you deeper under that bridge or even further into the woods.

“You don’t vote, you don’t pay taxes, and none of your friends are my friends, so take your dirty clothes, your broken-down cars and your family, too, and just stay out of the way.”

Every legislator working in that big, square building called the Capitol will be getting a raise this year, in July to be exact. Their pay will go up by approximately $6,000 per year, or $3 per hour.

Yes, their pay is going up, but yet they refuse to even schedule a hearing on SB676, which proposes increasing the minimum wage from the existing $10.10 to $12, effective July of 2022. Mahalo to the Senate for passing it out. While it’s not enough, it’s better than nothing, which is what the House is saying the working poor deserve.

We’ll take our $3-per-hour raise now, this year, and in fact we will even take another $3 per hour in 2024. But we will give you wretched people nothing.

Why? Because we can, they say with a smirk as they head to still-yet-another important meeting with important people.

Such is the arrogance of House leadership.

This will be the third year House Speaker Scott Saiki has blocked an increase in Hawai‘i’s minimum wage.

Representative Richard Onishi, chair of the House Labor and Tourism Committee, has not scheduled for a hearing a single House bill proposing to increase the minimum wage.

House leadership is refusing to allow any public discussion of the issue whatsoever.

House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke said recently, “It would be more rational for both the Senate and the House to take another look at it next year.”

Not this year, say Luke, Saiki and Onishi. Not in 2019, not in 2020, not in 2021, not in 2022 either.

“Let them eat cake and tell them to shut the front door on the way out” is the clear and unequivocal message.

The state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism has determined, “A single adult with no children needed to earn an hourly wage of $17.21 in 2018 to be able to meet his/her basic needs and to be economically self-sufficient.”

President Joe Biden, every member of the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation and almost every single Democrat in the U.S. Congress is fighting for a national $15 minimum wage, and yet Hawai‘i’s overwhelmingly Democratically controlled state House (47 Democrats to four Republicans) is unwilling to give Hawai‘i’s working people any raise at all.

It’s sad, really. It’s sad, it’s unjust and it’s unacceptable.

If someone works 40 hours a week, they deserve to earn a wage that can provide a dry, safe place to sleep at night. While $12 won’t do that, it’s much better than the $10.10 they get now.

The research is clear, and Hawai‘i’s own recent history proves it to be true. Modest incremental increases in the minimum wage phased in over time do not result in job losses, increased bankruptcy or excessive inflation. What actually happens is increased spending that benefits both workers and the economy as a whole.

Hawai‘i’s workers deserve respect, and they deserve a wage increase, just like the entire Legislature will be getting this year.

Please take a moment and share your thoughts on this important topic with your own representative who represents the district where you live and vote. They will no doubt profess support for an increase, and then they will pivot to “But this year is probably not the right year for this to happen.”

Remind them then, that 26 other states are increasing their minimum wage this year. Remind them that they failed to increase the wage in 2019. And remind them also that they themselves are getting a big, fat raise this year.

Ask them about that man under the bridge, and tell them that you will be thinking of him when you cast your vote in August of 2022.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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