Local Politics Is All About Attitude

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 07, 2010
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Unfortunately, the legislative session is nearing completion and the politicians’ comical antics will be gone from the news.

If aliens came from another world and tried to figure out what was going on in our political climate, they would find convincing evidence that our political leaders don’t care for each other and that our culture is too confusing to control.

The very powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a draft of the state budget that doesn’t raise the general excise tax as many feared. However, it did propose taking about $45 million in hotel tax money from the counties to help close the state’s projected $1.3 billion budget deficit. The Senate version also cut funding from 26 special funds, totaling $45 million, from next year’s budget.

The very next day, as expected, Honolulu City Council Budget Chairman Nestor Garcia announced that the city’s cultural programs, including the Royal Hawaiian Band and the Office of Culture and the Arts, may be eliminated if state lawmakers slash hotel room tax revenues. The only thing spared would be programs providing for public safety.

So if state legislators do capture the city’s share of hotel room tax money, the city would have to cut at least $20 million from the nearly $3 billion operating budget proposed by the city’s executive branch.

While this was going on, the House Tourism, Culture and International Affairs Committee advanced a resolution recognizing cockfighting as a cultural activity! Of course, the resolution died in the House Judiciary Committee by week’s end.

Not to be outdone, legislators tried to pass a bill that would prohibit harvesting, possession, distribution and sale of shark fins. Of course, this measure insulted the longstanding Chinese tradition or serving shark-fin soup at formal Chinese events.

Equally insulted were Native Hawaiians who consider sharks to be deity.

Mixing culture and politics is a difficult proposition, but it’s nothing compared to the partisan politics going on behind the scenes in what’s sure to be a hotly contested gubernatorial election.

As if to issue a blunt warning, HB 1868 HD1 would prohibit a civil servant who accepts an appointed position from returning to his former job if he has served in that position for one year or longer.

SB 2626 SD1 is a bill that would prohibit the permanent filling of any and all civil service positions between Dec. 15, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2011, by a non-civil service exempt (i.e., governor’s appointee) employee. This bill would create a subclass of civil servants whose probation period would be “not less than one year” and could be indefinite.

And while these are stern warnings for any employees considering appointments from a Republican governor or agency, SB 2007 SD1 is an even more direct assault on the governor’s powers.

Under law, this bill would curtail the budgetary powers of the executive branch by preventing the governor and budget director from restricting appropriated funds regardless of the state’s financial situation. It’s copied from a similar law in California, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well for them. It is paying its bills with vouchers because the state has no money.

One would suspect that state Attorney General Mark Bennett would object to these bills as unconstitutional. Only time will tell, but it serves as a reminder that when it comes to positioning one’s party for an upcoming election, the stakes are high and getting in the way could be hazardous to your occupational future.

Guess it’s all a matter of attitude and winning a gubernatorial election.

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