The Senate’s Debt To The Unions

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 01, 2005
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There is a spooky ambiance at the Capitol right now. You could call it the calm before the storm. Everyone knows something is going to happen in a few weeks — but they are not sure what.

I’m talking about the state Senate’s anticipated reorganization. The Senate president has already played the first card, like the seasoned veteran he is, by asking for an opinion from the State Attorney General’s Office about the legality of when they can meet to reorganize. Basically, the ruling said the Senate could meet anytime it wanted, anywhere it wanted to reorganize and wouldn’t have to get permission from anyone. Governor Lingle followed the obvious plan by saying that members of the Senate should be able to meet anytime they want, and she doesn’t need to call a special session for them to reorganize. After all, the more they fight over the reorganization of the Senate, the better for her agenda.

What’s causing the anxiety around town is trying to secondguess what legislative bills the governor will sign into law and which bills she will choose to veto. The next problem is whether the Democratic legislators have the votes to override her veto. Remember, before the session, the boast was, “The Legislature this session is vetoproof.” It may not be.

Word on the street is the House of Representatives does not have the vote to override a veto. The Senate is said to be split in a leadership battle, 10 for and 10 against. With that as a strong possibility, the concern is what would happen if the governor tested the legislative resolve by vetoing the mass transit excise tax. The worry is real. What if the “veto-proof” legislators couldn’t deliver on their promise? They might lose a few million from the Federal Transportation Agency, but it wouldn’t be the end of western civilization.

Simply put, that one bill is the longtime survival plan for the construction industry. This scenario has happened once before, if you remember, when the housing bubble burst and there was no work for a lot of construction workers. Many had to close shop, move to the Mainland or get out of the business. It could happen again, and once the construction industry builds all the military housing in four or five years, there has to be another public works project on the horizon to take up the slack in the job market. That project is the mass transit system being planned, but with unsure funding at this point. The uncertainty of it all is immense.

There are too many variables at this time to predict what will happen to the funding or which route the light rail transportation will take. No one knows or is willing to say when the project managers will decide on a route, and no one in the governor’s office will say what bills she will veto at this time. Nothing happens until after the governor and her marketing excursion returns from Asia.

One thing is a pretty sure bet. The most interested group in all of this political kung fu are the unions that supported Democrats in the last election — the ones who made them veto-proof. The unions — both public and private — will in all probability band together and reorganize the state Senate. They have done it in the past and are probably standing by to use necessary force to settle the reorganization arguments over leadership positions in the Senate behind closed doors.

Don’t expect the union mandate to the senators to be on the front page. To the contrary, it will probably happen like magic, just like the last time this situation occurred.

An important lesson for young legislators to remember for future reference:You can make and break promises to your voting constituency routinely and still get re-elected, but you cannot get away with breaking your promise to the unions who helped you into office and survive.

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