Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, January 20, 1997

What to expect from the
1997 Legislature

PSYCHIC, I am not. At the supermarket, when deciding which cashier's line to stand in, I inevitably pick the slowest. On the days I forget my jacket, the air-conditioning system turns the newsroom into Ice Palace. And when America Online announced it's nifty $19.95 flat rate for unlimited use, I got so excited that I . . .

Well, you get the drift. Which is why my friends and associates are very nervous about my early assessment of the 1997 state Legislature.

I feel it in my bones, gang: This is going to be one of the best, most productive and inspiring sessions in the history of Hawaii!

Why does the certified cynic of Kapiolani Boulevard feel this way? Because I have closely analyzed and read between the lines of House Speaker Joe Souki's opening day speech. And, although this may not be the first time, the guy actually may be telling the truth:

Exhibit I: A realistic checklist. Souki has succinctly spelled out what the Legislature must do to get back in the good graces of voters. He mentions acting early on the hot potato of same-gender marriage, then finally tackling issues like no-fault insurance, workers' comp reform, crime and even the notorious high-three pension plan for legislators. The high three? In the past, Souki strongly objected to any tinkering with this perk that inflates lawmaker pensions, and single-handledly held this up in the House. Now he is finally acknowledging that it's a non-debatable no-no with the public.

Exhibit II: No visible shibai. How do we know the speaker isn't bluffing about dealing with the aforementioned prorities? Because of the noticeable absence of just as important priorities from his speech. True to form, there was no mention about helping welfare recipients, the homeless, immigrants, domestic violence victims or drug addicts, none of whom are favorites with legislators since none of these "constituencies" is a powerhouse at the polls.

Exhibit III: A taxing proposal. Yet the most compelling evidence that Souki is sincere came when he mentioned a political taboo and almost certain death wish for an elected official. He stated: "With the administration's recent news of a potential (budget) shortfall, I cannot absolutely nor responsibly promise no new taxes." When Souki said that, reporters perked up, spectators in the gallery paled and all of Souki's friends started muttering, "Gee, I guess Joe won't be running for re-election in two years."

At first, I thought Souki was playing a cruel joke. This town's economy is already in the toilet, and any kind of tax increase would be like further you-know-what-ing on the long-suffering citizen.

But when Souki also mentioned the need to fund and staff an Office of the Legislative Analyst - so it can have "proper oversight over the development and execution of the state budget" - the truth became clear.

THE speaker wasn't kidding when he talked about a tax increase! Because how are we supposed to fund a additional state office - with an estimated $350,000 start-up cost - without finding more money for government to spend? Souki must not be lying about raising taxes! Therefore, Souki must not be fibbing when he assures us that this state's most pressing problems will be taken care of by the 1997 Legislature!

I, for one, have total faith that this will be done. However, considering my less-than-impressive gut instincts when it comes to supermarket lines, office climates and AOL, here's a caveat: Folks, we may be in serious trouble.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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