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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010

At UH, the message may not be sinking in

By David Shapiro

The state House sent a pointed message to the University of Hawai'i about its labor agreement with faculty by passing a budget that slashes another $10 million from the university, reducing state general-fund support by 3 percent.

Most unionized state workers are taking furloughs that amount to an 8 percent pay cut for two years, with no promises of making up the loss in the future.

UH agreed to a contract with professors calling for 6.7 percent cuts that return to the current rate in 18 months, with all lost pay then restored in a series of lump-sum payments. In the final two years of the contract, faculty will receive 3 percent pay raises.

Gov. Linda Lingle approved the agreement, but warned that UH can't count on additional general-fund money to pay the raises and will likely have to either increase tuition or cut programs.

The next governor isn't bound by Lingle's caveat, but unless he has a good printing press, he'll have a hard time finding money to fund UH pay raises and reimbursements ahead of other state workers who have suffered greater losses.

House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro, in defending the $10 million cut, seemed to suggest that if the university can afford to promise pay raises in this economy, then it can afford to contribute more to reducing the state's record budget deficit.

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood hasn't explained how she plans to pay for the faculty reimbursements and raises. Unless the economy comes booming back faster and bigger than expected, drastic tuition increases or program cuts seem the only clear options.

Greenwood is holding out hope for more general-fund support despite what Lingle and legislators are telling her.

In response to the House Finance Committee's cuts, she said, "We're optimistic that as the process moves along, our state legislators will recognize the importance of the university to the state's overall economy and the need to proactively invest in the state's sole public higher education system.

"Not only do we bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in research and training revenue, we also contribute educational capital."

It remains to be seen if lawmakers will view it as a valid investment to shield UH faculty from the sacrifices other state workers have made in the face of harsh economic realities.

In the meantime, UH had better get busy bringing in more of those hundreds of millions they're always talking about, because they're probably going to need the dough to pay those raises.