The Lingle-Legislature Divide

Larry Price
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Wednesday - February 20, 2008
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The legislative process for 2008 has just passed the first crossover point. Crossover is when the House and Senate exchange bills as they move forward through the process. It’s a good time to get a feeling of what kind of year it’s going to be for the taxpayers.

The word is the Legislature at this point is fighting with a $300 million shortfall that could get bigger when the Council of Revenues meets in the near future. It’s not a major problem because they all knew there would be a shortfall before the session started. A bigger problem for the Democrat-controlled Legislature is a partisan assault on the governor’s powers.

It is no secret that the Lingle administration is not happy with the way the Legislature is trying to restrict or limit her gubernatorial powers. The most serious threat limits her power to nominate future judges and UH regents. An example is a newly introduced bill to extend the retirement age of judges. You’ll recall that a constitutional amendment two years ago to put a cap of retirement age for Supreme and Intermediate Court of Appeals judges at 70 years of age was hotly contested. The amendment was passed by more than 80,000 votes. Now, two years later, there is another effort to pass a bill that would lift the amendment because it violates gender/age discrimination laws. The governor’s administration is upset at the effort.

Last week, the governor found it necessary to call on senators to try to stimulate a more collaborative effort in the 2008 session, but there is no evidence that it is working. Despite serious objections from the governor, a medical marijuana measure moved forward at the state Capitol. The governor said, “The legislation is meaningless and won’t become law.”

This appears to indicate the governor is prepared to employ her veto powers more this year than ever before. Last year the vetoed bills totaled 50 or so. It’s too early to tell right now, but there is strong indications that the governor’s veto hammer could fall a 100 times in 2008! If that happens going into an election year, it will make for some harsh campaigning and some unhappy taxpayers. It will show the sensitive underbelly of your Legislature. Simply put, they don’t appear to understand the benefits of cooperation.

There appears to be an overriding premise at the Capitol that, in a ideal world, everyone should be allocated the same amount of money from the state’s cash register. What the taxpayers probably really want is that everyone seeking funds from the Legislature should end up with the amount of money they deserve. For the outsider, it would appear that only luck determines who gets funded when the legislative game is over.

Shouldn’t there be a reasonable relationship between accomplishment and reward, not who you know?

After witnessing the SuperFerry debacle followed by the NCL Cruise demise and the University of Hawaii’s handling of its athletic woes and campus disrepair problems - let’s face it, we need more trust and cooperation between the competing political parties. I don’t think any of our legislators or government leaders doubt the social benefits of trust and cooperation.

We may not think of paying taxes as a matter of cooperation, but at its core, that’s what it comes down to. We trust the government will spend our tax dollars wisely and in the state’s best interest.

Taxpayers also trust that the state will punish the guilty and not punish the innocent. Unfortunately, more laws cannot induce more cooperation. It comes from more trust in all aspects of the government machine, and has to be demonstrated by the taxpayers’ role models, the elected officials of the state.

It’s been well-demonstrated that flourishing economies require a healthy level of trust in the reliability and fairness of everyday transactions. A large number of vetoes by the governor at the end of the legislative session will be a sad, clear signal our Legislature needs to be better role models in the trust and cooperation department.

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