TESTIMONY: Hold off on Maui County pay raises?

The following testimony by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii was considered by the Maui County Salary Commission on Jan. 20, 2023.

Jan. 20, 2023
9:00 a.m.
Mayor’s Conference Room and Videoconference

To: The Maui County Salary Commission
      Chair, Scott Parker
      Vice Chair, Grant Nakama

From: Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
            Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

RE: Item 5.A, Discussion and consideration of the Salary Commission’s 2023 strategy and approach regarding the salaries for the Mayor, County Council members, Directors, Deputy Directors and County Auditor.

Comments Only

Dear Chair and Commission Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on the Salary Commission’s 2023 strategy for determining the salaries of the mayor, County Council members, department directors and the county auditor.

In April 2022, the Commission voted to give the mayor, County Council members and department directors a 5% pay increase. This was the first raise the Council had received since 2013.[1]

Going forward in 2023, the Commission should consider the following:

>> The Maui County Council is the highest paid Council in the state.

Because of last year’s pay raise, members of the Maui County Council now receive a salary of $80,298.75 a year; the Council chair receives $86,336.25.

On Kauai, the Kauai County Council voted in September 2022 to give itself, the mayor and the department heads 15% raises. By 2024, Kauai’s Council members will be making $78,672 a year, and the Council chair $88,502.[2]

In Honolulu and Hawaii counties, the mayors and county councils did not receive any pay increases last year.[3] Their council members are paid $68,904 and $70,008 per year, respectively.[4]

>> Many city and county council members across the U.S. work for less.

Across the United States, there is great variation in how city and county council members are compensated.

In Texas, Austin City Council members make $116,688 per year while Dallas Council members earn only $60,000 per year — even though both councils are full-time.[5]

Meanwhile, many smaller localities across the country are led by council members who receive much lower compensation.

For example, Sandy Springs, Georgia, a town of about 100,000 people, pays its mayor $47,000 per year, and its council members $21,000, adjusted for Hawaii’s cost of living.[6] The city is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in America,[7] and is home to several Fortune 500 companies.[8]

Maui lawmakers are not necessarily full-time employees

Maui County officials are neither part-time nor full-time employees, according to the Maui Corporation Council, which stated on April 8, 2019:

Elected officials are a unique class of public servant who are neither full-time or part-time. While the County Council may designate its members as full-time, the benefits accorded to elected officials are not based on that designation. The benefits available to elected officials are established by statute. We make no opinion whether the Salary Commission should consider the full-time or part-time status of elected officials.[9]

The fact that the mayor and council have in the past worked long hours does not necessarily mean that they should work so much, nor that spending so much time on their jobs is a “public good.”

For example, in some instances, the laborious creation of legislation that puts barriers in the way of housing or business activity, or infringes on the property rights of citizens, could actually be considered a “public bad,” and should not be encouraged.

Above all, as the Maui County Salary Commission works on its strategy for 2023, it is important to remember that creating a great place to live does not require paying the mayor and County Council members high salaries.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Lila Fujimoto, “Panel awards pay raises to mayor, council,” The Maui News, April 9, 2022.

[2] Guthrie Scrimgeour, “Kaua‘i county council approves raises for mayor, department heads, councilmembers,” The Garden Island, Sept. 8, 2022.

[3] Ashley Mizuo, “No salary increase this year for Council members, mayor and department heads,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 19, 2022.

[4] Richard Wiens, “Which County Pays Its Council Members The Most? (Hint: It’s Not Honolulu),” Honolulu Civil Beat, Oct. 17, 2021.

[5] Bridget Grumet, “Grumet: Austin City Council’s big raises came with too little explanation,” Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 21, 2022.

[6] Based on Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations, Jan. 19, 2023, using the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis cost-of-living adjuster, and Sandy Springs base salaries of $40,000 for its mayor and $18,000 for its council members. See “Real Personal Consumption Expenditures by State and Real Personal Income by State and Metropolitan Area, 2021,” U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Dec. 15, 2022; and “Running for Office and Qualifying for the Municipal Election,” SandySpringsGA.gov, 2021.

[7]Awards and honors,” SandySpringsGA.gov, 2021.

[8] John Ruch, “Sandy Springs Is A Magnet For Fortune 500 Headquarters,” Sandy Springs magazine, Sept. 21, 2021.

[9] Letter from Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Maui County Council vice-chair, to Gary Murai, Maui deputy corporation counsel, April 8, 2019, p. 6.

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