Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
April xx, 2000
Enact a “Truth in Legislating” bill
Personal attacks by public officials are part of the territory when you venture to opine on public policy. I have become used to it, but it still irks, especially when it is dishonest. It does not help knowing that they and their speechwriters operate on my payroll (and that of other taxpayers).
For example, during the rail transit debate Jeremy Harris accused me of gross misrepresentation, misuse of reports, avoiding the issues, failing to make pertinent disclosures, diverting public attention from the real issues, and distorting the facts. He said our material was pure hogwash, defies logic, absurd and preposterous, misguided, deceptive, meaningless, ludicrous, ridiculous, misleading, simplistic, routinely flip-flopped, fatuous, manipulator, irresponsible, irrelevant, and inaccurate, and that I only offer superficial and simplistic arguments, myths, wishful thinking, faith-healing opiates and Band-Aid solutions. It is tough digging yourself out from under so much manure let alone maintaining your faith that the mayor sincerely wants citizen input.
More recently, an article by Lorraine Akiba, (4/3/00) head of the State Dept. of Labor attacked me for my minimum wage column (3/1/00). She used the weight and credibility of her office to disparage it and gave a number of “facts” in support of her position.
However, all of her facts were wrong. To put it lightly she miswrote in virtually every sentence. She opened with, “Federal Reserve Board studies continuously conclude there is no evidence of either an increase in unemployment or a reduction in job creation from the minimum wage.” Not so. In fact, the very latest study concludes that “although wages of low-wage workers increase, their hours and employment decline, and the combined effect of these changes is a decline in earned income.”
Another recent FRB study cites a survey where “90% of U.S. economists agreed that an increase in the wage floor would increase unemployment among young and unskilled workers.” It also cites a survey of labor economists agreeing that a 10% increase in the minimum wage would result in a 1-2% decline in teen unemployment.
She then says, “The 1999 Levy survey of small businesses found three-quarters said a federal minimum wage (increase) would not affect their business practices.” However, the three-quarters are those businesses that can not use low-skill workers. The other one-quarter of businesses who say a minimum wage will affect them are precisely those who can hire low-cost low-skill workers—and will not be able to.
Then she says that I am wrong about teenage wage earners and cites another study as saying that minimum wage legislation has “no impact” on them. But the study does not say that. Instead, it says that minimum wage increases cause, “a significant increase in the proportion of teenagers who are neither in school nor employed” and that employers demand “higher productivity teenagers after a minimum wage increase.” In other words, businesses have to release the least productive teenagers—precisely those most in need of a job opportunity.
Then back to the City. Last year, “City officials point to the growing [17 percent] number of cars to justify a light-rail trolley system.” It took me two months to get the City to admit that there had actually been a 3% decline in autos—and that from their own data.
Subsequently a city official wrote to this paper on the subject and, without disagreeing with my data, suggested that I “should be reminded that misrepresentations do little to solve the problems facing our state today.” It is enough to make you weep.
It is very discouraging to have public officials deliberately mislead us. Maybe we need a “truth in legislating” law.
Cliff Slater is a regular Advertiser columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater