The Legislature’s Ball Game Begins

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 12, 2011
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Speaker of the House (for now) Calvin Say

On Jan. 19, the state Legislature will gather to take care of the state’s business. It has all the tell-tale earmarks of a great session: new faces, promises to keep, new leadership in the Senate, a dissident faction fighting for power in the House.

But there’s not much money in the coffers of either chamber.

It’s good that the political season begins with individuals and power groups gunning for control over the process. The Senate seems set, although who will be Speaker of the House is still up in the air as longtime Speaker Calvin Say is still searching for one more vote to stay in power. Dissidents in the House of Representatives have been busy trying to force a compromise candidate into the spotlight.

Many people are hoping they are not successful, because it could mean the passage of a general-excise tax increase, which is the quick fix for the state’s budget shortfall.

This kind of talk always gets the Republican minority excited because, if the session begins without a leader, they could possibly break the deadlock if they vote as a block. Not likely, but a cute thought.

Last time it happened was way back in 1971. Seems like nothing really changes.

When there are too many powerful Democrats in elective positions, they always end up with two factions, one in command and the other searching for chairmanship of important committees.

This session will have a new twist: a new, fast-talking, liberal governor and a big budget shortfall. There are already indications that the public unions will be called on for concessions. That’s not a surprise, but having it happen before the House finishes its leadership struggle is.

There is something missing this year in both houses of the Legislature. There has been no call for a limit to the opening-day festivities, a trademark of Hawaii politics - flowers, entertainment, lavish food and one big party with a big-time meet-and-greet session all day long. Because of calls for fiscal austerity, the legislators had been asked to scale down or abandon the festivities, but there has been no call for that so far.

What does this mean? Has the Council on Revenues given an indication behind closed doors that the state budget woes are ending?

We have to wait and see who authors a bill or bills to generate funds to benefit which segment of the state’s population. It should be interesting. But first, the legislators should commit to playing ball with each other. That would be a really good start.

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