Johnson on Budget: “You can’t get blood out of a turnip… this is a pretty big vegetable we’re looking at”

April 28, 2010, 6:01 AM HST · Updated April 28, 9:44 AM
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“Nothing is easy and I can empathize with many of the decisions that we have to face.  But I do appreciate what the administration is going through, but I also appreciate that you’re (Council Chair Joe Pontanilla) trying to look at the concerns of the general public, interpret that as well as what all nine of us including yourself—what we really are faced with,” said West Maui Council member Jo Anne Johnson.

Council Member Jo Anne Johnson. File photo/graphic by Wendy Osher.

“Right now in other jurisdictions… it’s not just one furlough day a month, it’s one furlough day a week.  It is wholesale layoffs.  And we don’t have it perhaps as bad as some communities do because we’ve always been fiscally conservative.  I really applaud this council and past councils because we’ve really done a yeoman’s job and I really am proud of Maui County because we are not in as bad a shape,” said Johnson.

“But there comes a time when also, I would look at the union negotiators.  That is one of the biggest keys.  Right now if the unions were to look at the big picture and look at the representation, they can show true leadership by actually making our job easier, by having everybody pull back slightly.  If we were to roll back our wages or benefits, or a combination of both, we wouldn’t have as much suffering.  But that’s not the reality,” said Johnson.

“Many of the problems that we’re having to deal with and what you (Pontanilla) dealt with when you prepared the budget was because of choices that we have no control over.  I hope that the people who make these decisions for us at the state level, who sit around the negotiating table, and who now wring their hands and say: ‘woe is me, and oh it’s so sad and it’s so terrible.’ Think about the responsibility that each one of us has and the potential to solve the problem,” said Johnson.

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“I would gladly give up 15 or 20 percent of my own personal wage if I knew that everybody across the board was sacrificing an equal amount.  Then we could roll back taxes, we could look at all kinds of different options, but we are faced with a reality.  And the reality is: this is probably going to continue not just for this year, but for the next several years come, because we have not seen the worst of it yet,” said Johnson.

“I applaud you (Pontanilla) for submitting a budget, that albeit it had shock value, particularly taking out the positions.  I think at least it brought out people to say what they are willing to settle for if push comes to shove.  That’s hopefully what we were doing in all of the deliberations, but sometimes when you’re looking at a choice between something and a choice between nothing, that’s when you get compromise.  So I think that what we heard from the departments was definitely compromise,” said Johnson.

“I’m very happy to continue the dialogue.  To looking at perhaps putting these positions back in, since we learned that it takes between one and two years to actually re-insert them into the budget.  I’m happy to put that back in with zero funding, but with a proviso that the administration has to come back to the council to fill that position or at least identify the source of that funding.  I think that if we’ve got to be accountable to our constituents, we have to ask those questions,” Johnson said.

“I didn’t beg for my community, because I feel that when there is no money, it’s very difficult to ask for things when other people maybe have it way worse.  I’m willing to support your (Pontanilla’s) recommendation and continue on with the dialogue.  I don’t think that we’re that far apart truthfully.  I think there are some areas that we can revisit,” said Johnson.

“I frankly look forward to concluding the budget early, because when there is no money, sometimes this may be the easiest budget that we ever get through because you can’t get blood out of a turnip.  And right now this is a pretty big vegetable we’re looking at,” Johnson said.

(Posted by Wendy Osher)

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