Low Legislative Expectations (Again)
Wednesday - January 25, 2006
There is an old saying about the convening of the state Legislature, “Protect yourself, the Legislature is in session and everyone’s property and welfare are up for grabs.”
I’m not sure it’s as bad as that, but year in and year out the convening of the Legislature is pretty predictable.
Sorry to point that out, but the record shows legislative issues at the beginning of session during an election year are uneventful. It seems everyone wants to stay below the radar and not fire the passion of change in their constituencies.
The pleas for affordable housing, help for the homeless and reduction in the use of drugs by a large segment of our population, while popular, are always second to public education.
It might be safe to say that these issues will be around for decades to come.
For the most dangerous scenario, a legislative body looking for new revenue tops my list. When the lawmakers get together and spend the majority of their time trying to find new money, no program or taxpayer is really safe from their long arms.
What we have this year is the opposite situation.
The state is rolling in dough. We have more money than we have had in a very long time. The unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation, and projections call for increase revenue in the coming year.
The big problem is what to do with the surplus revenue. It really doesn’t matter when you come right down to it, as long as it is spent on public programs.
There is a real hazard in the wind. When a government decides how much money it needs to fund all of its programs and doesn’t collect enough taxes to cover that cost, it becomes very unpopular.
What’s worse is to raise taxes when you have a hefty surplus sitting in the coffers.
The much vaunted “Rainy Day” fund is a good idea on paper, but the practice of raiding special funds for use in general fund programs is a real problem in Hawaii. If you head a program and don’t have the political clout to protect any surplus you might have accumulated over the year, it will be confiscated to benefit someone else’s deficit.
I for one think that the Legislature and the governor have learned from experience and will use the surplus intelligently. It’s political suicide to channel surplus funds to special projects, and the record shows that rebates don’t help anyone get re-elected.
That brings up the question about why things are likely to be relatively quiet this session.
The reason is simple.
There’s an election on the horizon and there seems to be a shortage of viable candidates for some of the top offices.
Under the current circumstances, attacking the administration seems ill-advised with all of the economic success the Lingle administration is enjoying.
They must be doing a lot of things correctly.
The idea that one of the legislators would do something so spectacular during the session to vault him or herself into seeking a higher office is unlikely. Just getting re-elected will be on just about everyone’s agenda.
I expect the legislative session of 2006 to be relatively boring. There will be a lot of posturing and chest-thumping as usual, but it will be just another election year effort.
Oh yes, the public schools will get the majority of the attention even though the Legislature convenes while 28 unhappy workers in the concrete business are threatening to shut down the lucrative construction industry, and the other unions are demanding a bigger share of the state’s economic success, especially the equally lucrative hotel industry.
The legislators and party chiefs are going to be more interested in raising campaign funds than searching for new revenue. That should soften the political rhetoric this year.
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