BY SENATE MINORITY LEADER SAM SLOM, (R-HAWAII KAI TO DIAMOND HEAD) – What a turn around from 2011. He is the most unpopular Governor in the U.S., has angered his union, environmentalist and special big business friends, many in his own Democrat Party and lost most of his initial staff, but still Governor Neil Abercrombie’s footprints are all over the 2012 Legislative Session. He was the clear winner.
The 60-day working session which began in mid-January, concluded on May 3. The Governor, who changed his strategy from a year ago, was everywhere during the Session. Highly visible, in hearings, in the House and Senate galleries and even sitting at the final conference table.
There has been a continuing and widening split between the House and Senate Democrats during the past year—they didn’t have Republican Linda Lingle to unite them—and the Gov took full advantage of this. The House (43 Democrats, 8 Republicans) was more than willing to work with him and to give him nearly all he wanted while standing stronger in the end to the Senate (24 Democrats, 1 Republican).
The House held out on the operating supplemental budget, dissed the Senate Democrat centerpiece $500 million CIP, battled for bills the Governor wanted and even got several extentions past Senate deadlines.
But what about the taxpayers? And small business? As is the usual case, they got no respect. There was nothing done to reduce any taxes, lower your costs of living or to give you more consumer choice, Government will make choices and “investments” for you.
It would have been even worse but this is a major election year. Because of reapportionment, all 76 House and Senate seats are up this year. And reapportionment is still in chaos with a federal court challenge based on the 14th Amendment set for May 18. Candidate filing deadline is June 5.
Many outside the Big Square Building described this as a quiet session. But there was plenty going on behind closed doors.
This year also saw more “gut and replace” bills earlier and more often than ever before. This process makes it more difficult for citizens to follow the actual contents in a bill. There were also attacks on freedom of information. And Senate and House leadership agreed on more disagreeable bills than previously thus avoiding the public scrutiny of the conference committee process.
• The $11.2 Billion operating budget was agreed upon at 3:30 am on Saturday, April 28. Another $3.1 billion was added for capital projects. This was the latest a budget bill was approved in many years. No fiscal bill could pass until the budget was agreed to. In the end, the budget was up from last year, added still more government employees, and was higher than the Governor requested. Many Democrat floor speeches boasted of “being responsible to the Governor’s vision.” (Mine was the only NO vote in the Senate).
• The pledge to repay the money to the Hurricane Relief and Rainy Day Special Funds, taken by the Executive Branch in 2011 to balance the budget, was not repaid; instead another $11.2 million went to non-profits and organizations close to the Majority Party in the form of Grants-In-Aid. (Mine was the only NO vote in the Senate).
• The Governor’s #1 priority, a $200 million Ka’kaako land give away to the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), for a ceded lands agreement, was fast tracked. It is not a universal settlement, it will not end all law suits against the state and there will be more demands from OHA and others next year for land entitlements. (Mine was the only NO vote in the Senate). The Governor can now say he accomplished what all previous Governors attempted but could not achieve.
• The #2 priority by the Governor, was planning for a $2-3 billion (forget that $1 billion figure you read in the mainstream media) undersea electric cable to link the Islands. If you like the elevated $6 billion O’ahu rail, you’ll love this cable. Proponents say this is only a “regulatory framework.” Are you kidding? They salivate over this cable as does the state’s chief monopoly and most profitable utility, HECO. HECO will be the big winner in gaining state assistance and surcharges from electric utility ratepayers, now the highest charged in the U.S. It is true that there would be economies of scale for a statewide grid, but the threat of natural or criminal disruption causing a statewide loss of all power is very real. Then there are those wind turbines all over Lanai. (My NO vote in the Senate was joined by Sens. Clayton Hee and Suzanne Chun-Oakland).
• Still another Abercrombie initiative was the so-called “Justice Reinvestment Initiative,” which was controversial and went through several revisions. In the end it passed, setting the stage for changes in parole, early release and return of prisoners from the Mainland. There are many good changes, but it still seems tilted towards criminals and a challenge to some public safety. We’ll have to see how it is actually implemented.
• In the end, the Governor did not prevail in his desire to fast track state and county projects from environmental oversight. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Supporters said it was necessary “efficiency,” but they weren’t willing to extend this efficiency to private permit projects. It was the Republicans in the House and Senate that stood up for those in the public who did not want to lose their input in planning projects.
• Much of this session, like most, is spent beating back more tax increases, extra large fees, and just plain dumb ideas like a state bank—to be operated by the Governor. Seriously? There was gambling of course, increased film credits, and another run at van cams, red light cameras and a plastic bag ban. The Streamline Tax (tax on your internet purchases) was beaten for the 8th straight year. They failed; but all will return in 2013.
• More civil union, same sex-like laws were enacted.
• Sadly, neither the state Mammal, our Native Hawaiian Hoary Bat, nor a new entry, the State Microbe (Nesiotobacter exalbescens) passed.
An interesting event took place in the Senate on the final day. A bill involving the military Tricare program, passed unanimously in the Legislature, was vetoed by the Governor. The Senate, voted to over ride that veto, 25-0. However, Speaker Calvin Say never brought it up in the House and the veto stood. Since 1962, there has been only one override of a Democrat Governor’s veto: Governor Cayetano on the subject of age of consent. Republican Governor Lingle had more than 100 vetoes overridden in her eight years.
The Governor has until June 25 to release a list of any additional vetoes this year. His final action on all bills must occur by July 10. That is also the day the Legislature would have to come back in session to over ride any vetos. Don’t bet on it.