BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – The Hawaii State Legislature hit the ground limping today, opening the 2011 session to a deafening yawn by the public. All the while, there is a curious internecine battle for control of the House of Representatives leadership. The House Democrats can’t achieve the most basic organizational function common to the first day of any kindergarten class: seat assignments.
As of this writing, the House Democrats were still arguing over who would be speaker, while members – apparently wandering around the Capitol building in a Twilight Zone version of musical chairs – wondered which offices they will finally be assigned to.
What is mystifying about the two Democrat factions fighting for control of the House is what are they actually fighting to control?
As far as I can tell, the only issue facing the Democrat-dominated House is how is the government is going to continue to pay wages, double-dipping salaries, health benefits and pensions to the ever-growing legion of Hawaii Government Employee Association members.
I’ve seen the HGEA commercials on TV showing that just about everyone in the islands are or will be a member of the HGEA. (I know I’m waiting for the position of Government Columnist to open up so I can partake of those sweet benefits.)
Government unions across the country refuse to make any financial concessions during these bad economic times. They invoke a little understood economic model based on the idea that no matter how many private businesses are forced to close their doors, unionized government employees can still can be paid by taxing the lone remaining lunch wagon, strip club and hair salon.
If I were a House member, I’m not sure I’d want to be anywhere near a position of power in that esteemed body when it is discovered that the state is attempting to finance its entire budget by taxing the last remaining small businessman in Hawaii, some guy in Kalihi selling feral roosters “for sport and dinner.”
Now, this isn’t to say that there will not be other business coming before the state Legislature this session. It’s just that this business will be mainly distractions to divert the public’s gaze from the funny math being used to keep government employees employed.
Here are some of the issues I’ve heard the Legislature will wrestle with once all of our elected officials have been seated and given milk and cookies:
– Yes, “Same-Sex Marriage” will again become a controversial issue this session. But legislators also will consider passing a “No-Sex Marriage” law in which couples of any gender who hate each other can marry to enjoy special tax breaks as long as they promise not to have intercourse.
– State School Board Reform. The school board currently has more members than Napoleon’s army when it reached Moscow. What to do? The voters opted for a board appointed by the governor instead of an elected one. School board elections had gotten way out of hand with more people running for a seat on the board than actual students in school. I suggest that the legislature send the governor a bill which would allow him to basically sell positions on the board to the highest bidder. I don’ t know if that would make the schools better but it would be fun to watch.
– Legalized gambling. I’ve long been a proponent of the state building a casino/hotel called “Hawaii! Hawaii!” in Las Vegas to take money from Mainland suckers but save wear and tear on the island infrastructure. The Legislature will have to look at other ideas, like putting slot machines in every hotel room in Hawaii and make the use of them mandatory by visitors. It would be like a hotel room tax sponsored by Bally. We could also look at legalizing cockfighting as long as the decedents were used in charity huli-huli barbeque sales.
– Virtue Taxes. Another idea I’ve floated from time to time. Forget “sin taxes” that target the pitiful cigarette smokers and boozers. Those guys are going to die young. Tax the virtuous, they will live forever. Organic produce, green businesses, smoothie shops … tax the heck out of them. It will provide a dependable income stream while wiping the smugness off the faces of the some of the most annoying people around.
– Establishment of Special State Holidays. There needs to be some inspiring symbolism to come out of this session. What better than coming up with new holidays. How about Furlough Appreciation Day? A day set aside to thank public school teachers and other government employees forced to take furlough days. On Furlough Appreciation Day, all state workers will get a day off with time-and-a-half pay.
– Fat Raises for Legislators. This is a toughie. It’s going to take a lot finesse and nifty dance steps. It would be the height of audacity for legislators to give themselves raises. But I think they can get ‘er done.