A Legislative Storm’s Brewing

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 06, 2009
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Brace yourself: The Legislature is sailing in deep water and a perfect legislative storm is developing. In fact, there hasn’t been a situation like this since ... maybe ever.

First, can you remember when a governor has vetoed the entire state budget? I can’t, but it still remains a possibility. If that happens, the state of Hawaii would literally shut down on July 1. The ramifications would be immense. Emotions would be pushed to the breaking point.

There is only one other place on Oahu where such an emotional tsunami is brewing - Chinatown, where one thing after another has put the entire community there on edge and at each other’s jugulars. All within a short time there were brawls, stabbings, gambling raids, shootings between law enforcement officials and local residents, invasion by a displaced segment of the homeless population, intervention by the mayor’s office with additional police, and a stern warning to warring gangs.

Then, to complete their “storm,” the frightened public is concerned about the swine flu, which affected everything from the stock market and tourism to pork products.


The Legislature, on a smaller canvas, appears to an ordinary taxpayer to have lost its bearings. Many of the confrontations appear to be personal in nature. The word is the public unions want a general excise tax to cover the budget deficit and not furloughs for its employees. Some senators favor raiding the county’s share of the transient accommodation tax (TAT) and raising the TAT, over the objections of the tourism industry and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

While all this is going on, the administration is trying to make up the large part of the budget shortfall by asking the public unions to take a number of furlough days without pay.

We have written about this before, because it looks like a social trap waiting to be sprung, with certain unholy coalitions employing dirty tricks to put pressure on each other’s plans. What a political dirty trick means is that certain important individuals gather and try to put public pressure on a rival’s proposition to do something that is probably not in their best interest to do. The idea is, don’t give in; convince the other party of the value of staying in the deal, or better yet, the cost of leaving it. Which side should you support? The best answer is probably neither.

As an interested tax-paying observer, I would suggest ignoring them, because a dirty trick ignored is, essentially, a tactic defeated. Of course, the problem is these manipulators may simply not get the message that you want something different to happen.

Hopefully, the governor won’t be forced to veto the entire budget, although it appears clear that there are forces in the Legislature pushing for that outcome.

Additionally, it’s not a good idea to put this entire budget shortfall on the shoulders and backs of the public worker’s unions, because their leadership is much wiser than most people give them credit for, and can see the obvious writing on the wall: It is well inside the governor’s power to mandate the furloughs, even without their blessings. It’s a better bet that they will once again make a few strategic concessions to save the day, and avoid massive layoffs for their membership at the same time.

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