Politics Of The Green Eyeshades
Wednesday - May 11, 2011
Last week members of the Hawaii State Legislature finally passed a budget for fiscal years 2012-2013 and sent it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie. All hoped it would prove to be balanced.
The 2011 session’s budget-making was neither a dramatic nor a pretty process to watch. Politics refereed by accountants seldom are. For the men in the green eyeshades, it’s all about addition, subtraction, surpluses and shortfalls.
The emotion came from two parties: those whose bottom lines and bank accounts must make up the differences between government revenue and government expenditures in the form of new taxes, and those who teach the children or provide other government services that must be curtailed.
Emotions occasionally ran high. “Money,” my Pappy often said, “always brings out the worst in people.” Over the past three months, businessmen complained, mayors grimaced, union members groused and retirees sobbed.
All while legislators jerry-built. But first they gave the governor raiding privileges - of the hurricane relief fund, the rainy day fund and a handful of other funds - to pay the remaining bills for fiscal year 2011. Then it became a prolonged, back-and-forth between House and Senate game of “cut-a-little, taxa-little.”
The men in the green eyeshades said that the cutting and taxing had to add up to $1.3 billion, the projected budget shortfall for the next biennium. So the governor’s budget took a $616 million hit. Forty or so business “entities” lost $393 million in excise tax exemptions. Limitations on tax deductions yielded $48 million. And so on, and so on, and so on, until it all adds up, we are assured, to $1.3 billion.
I’m sure it does: on paper, at this moment. But as House Finance chairman Marcus Oshiro and Senate Ways and Means chairman David Ige are the first to admit, much depends on assumptions: of a certain level of revenue over the next two years and of negotiated pay cuts with unionized workers, for example.
Those are big assumptions, big enough to come close to the category of a little bit of smoke, a few mirrors and prayer. That’s as close as we can get to drama in budget politics.
In a place called Abbottabad, Pakistan, last week we received a huge dose of dramatic politics. It included daring, violence and global revenge. So much so, that we can all start playing the fantasy game of who will play Navy SEAL, CIA operatives and White House Security team roles in the movie. It
was largely global, but national politic as well. And as I write on the third morning after the SEAL team took out Osama bin Laden, it’s still all that’s to be found at the top of the news.
For President Barack Obama, it appears to be a modest plus. He gained a 9 percent blip in his approval rating, from 45 to 54 percent, a somewhat larger gain in approval of his handling of foreign affairs.
Such foreign policy surges do not, however, spell certain electoral victory in the next election. George H.W. Bush basked in an 80-plus approval rating following Operation Desert Storm, but less than two years later he lost his reelection bid to Democrat Bill Clinton. A recession did in Bush the elder.
His son knew a similar fate. George W. Bush’s numbers soared with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But he won reelection in 2004 in a squeaker, and when he left office in 2008 he had the worst approval ratings since poll-sters started measuring such things. Our current Great Recession did Bush the younger in.
Proof again of the adage: “People vote their pocketbooks.”
Or, to put it another way: “People vote the politics of the green eyeshade.”
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