Lawmakers talked big but did little
THE Star-Bulletin's May 5 editorial got in right in calling the 2007 legislative session "lackluster."
I have had the opportunity to closely watch the Legislature for the past four years. As Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser, one of my jobs is to help promote the governor's legislative package of improvements, as well as raise concerns about bad legislation that comes up each year.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate fell far short of what the public deserved. For example, the session opened with speeches about the importance of affordable housing, yet, when given the chance to approve almost $275 million in new funds to build and improve public housing, this Legislature gave us only $112 million.
Everyone knows that our highway fund was raided in the 1990s, and we need to replenish that fund so our state roadways can be repaired and expanded. But the House and Senate failed to approve $78 million in funds to rebuild and repair some of our worst roads.
Legislative leaders talked about improving the quality of life for Hawaii's citizens, but when they had a chance to return almost $350 million to the pockets of working families, they chose to approve just $82 million, a portion of which won't reach taxpayers until 2009. The governor recommended immediate relief from food taxes and a refund check this year because she realizes working families and seniors need tax relief now.
Instead of helping with housing, highways and tax refunds, the state Senate chose to spend countless hours engaging in the character assassination of gubernatorial appointees. The House leadership attempted to defend this unprofessional behavior by reminding us that the Democrats have performed the same shameful actions against previous governors ("No 'power grab' by Hawaii Democrats," "Capitol View" column by Rep. Kirk Caldwell, House majority leader, Star-Bulletin, May 5).
This does not justify actions to deny cabinet positions or judgeships to community-supported people qualified and willing to serve the public.
I must commend the members of the House and Senate minority who daily asked tough questions, fought to defend the governor's nominees and spoke out against heavy-handed majority tactics to overturn the governor's vetoes late at night when the public wasn't watching. The minority members recognize that democracy is an ongoing engagement with the people, not a once-in-a-while flexing of political muscles because you have a lopsided number of Democrats in the House and Senate.
It is my hope that we will see more constructive behavior in the 2008 legislative session. The Lingle-Aiona administration remains ready to work with members of both parties who are willing to engage in an honest discussion of public policy issues. This is the way to advance the public's business -- before another legislative session results in little but showmanship.
Linda L. Smith is senior policy adviser to Gov. Lingle Lingle.