Hawaii lawmakers will have their hands full this week


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Forget about the Ides of March, it's the last week in February that you want to watch out for.

This week is going to do a lot to set the direction for this legislative session and the upcoming political year. So pay attention.

First, the obvious. The state Senate gets its crack at House Bill 444, the civil union bill that would extend the civil rights of marriage to couples of the same sex. Some see the measure as a reaction to California's rejection of gay marriage and others see it as a continuation of Hawaii's first brush with the issue in 1996-98.

The result 11 years ago was that conservative Christian organizations formed a coalition resulting in a purge of some of the Legislature's most liberal members. Some politicians now say local public opinion has changed and they have a 2007 poll to prove it.

Others argue that the rejection of gay marriage in California shows that voters are not ready to change.

Issue No. 2 this week will be Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court argument about control of ceded land in Hawaii. The state argues that the case itself is quite narrow and preserves the state's right to control its land. Hawaiians have brought to the issue the overriding concerns of sovereignty, reparations and lingering resentment that what was once a nation is no more.

For politicians, this is a classic no-win situation.

And finally, the third issue this week is the biggest no-win of all - the budget.

The House this week has to start work on the state's red-ink-bleeding budget. There are three ways to fix it:

First, the House can raise taxes to get more money; second, it can cut out programs that use state money; and third, it can cut public workers' pay or benefits. Or it can do a little bit of each.

There are a couple of caveats attached. For instance, the House can hope the federal stimulus money saves jobs or generates spending or replaces money that would have been cut from the budget. Or the House can stage some sort of a raid on the more than $300 million sitting in the city's mass transit fund.

All that is risky business because awaiting the House budget planning is the Council on Revenues meeting in early March. If the national economy continues the crash of last week, then betting on stimulus packages of tax fund raids might be moot.

This will be the week when the public starts to see who among the 76 in the Legislature are earning their pay.


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. Reach him at 5 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)