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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Legislators may
lash back at Cayetano

MY favorite political scientist of the month is Sir Isaac Newton. Not that I could ever understand physics or even attempt calculus, but because Newton came up with the first law of politics: "Whatever you do will come back and bite you."

He said it a bit better:

"To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal and directed to contrary parts."

But what he was really talking about was Gov. Ben Cayetano and the state Legislature.

In past years, the governor always engaged in a little gentle legislative face-saving while trying to balance the state budget.

Cayetano and other governors would simply look at the state's huge construction budget and as the year went on decide what to spend.

It was sort of the option economic offense. If you have money, spend it; no money, nothing to spend.

So during the year, the governor would dribble out money for construction projects. Supplicants, also known as legislators, would make pilgrimages to the governor's office in hopes that their construction projects would be put at the top of the list.

If not, the projects were ignored, or at worst simply dropped.

If a school library, cafeteria or park fell from gubernatorial grace it had to go back to the Legislature and get back on the budget list.

But last year Cayetano started off the millennium by dropping the option and going for the political version of smash-mouth politics. He simply line-item vetoed portions of the state budget.

He lopped off air conditioners for August Ahrens Elementary School, cut fire code improvements from Manoa Elementary and sliced grants to the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. When he finished, the governor's veto pen had visited 27 schools and had cut a total of $27 million from the state construction budget.

Much of the slashing, he said, was done to programs that the school board and the Department of Education had not even requested. But they were legislative pork -- bills that the 76 lawmakers wanted in the budget.

ONE of those construction projects would have put up $3 million to study and plan for a new entrance to Wahiawa.

It is something that has been debated for about 40 years in the military and plantation town. The money would have been used to get more federal money to actually build a more efficient way into and out of town.

The elected senator from the district complained. But although he didn't have enough clout to change the veto, this year newly elected Senate President Robert Bunda may have more leverage when lobbying for his home district of Wahiawa.

This is also the year that Cayetano, not the Legislature, is lifting the big construction budget. The governor looks at Kakaako and sees medical schools, research facilities and an aquarium. He looks past Waikiki to the Ala Wai and sees a new park. And he sees it all done with the state's funds, approved by the Legislature.

The debate has started informally. Why should legislators give Cayetano what he wants right after he publicly trampled their budget?

And now you see why Sir Isaac was such a wise political scientist.

The law of opposite and equal reactions is about to be tested.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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