Untangling traffic
is the Council’s job


Members are contemplating a new body to take on transportation issues.

CITY Council members fret about how political considerations interfere with their making decisions on transportation issues. Here's the solution to that problem: Don't let them. Find the backbone, the guts, the courage, the pluck, the fortitude, the mettle to make the tough calls. Put the good of the community before self-interest, the needs of taxpayers before the desire to be re-elected.

Honolulu has a well-earned reputation of shilly-shallying when it comes to transportation, so much so that the federal government has taken notice. In 1992, after Hawaii's congressional delegation had landed more than $700 million in federal funds for a rail transit project, the Council could not find the political will to clear a half-cent excise tax increase to pay the city's share.

A more recent example of weak knees came last year when the Council hemmed and hawed before twice increasing bus fares to cover operations and pay raises for employees while laying the blame on the Harris administration to remove the political stigma.

Trashing the rail project was the offense of previous members, but the Council as a body seems to be genetically incapable of making choices on transportation, from rail to bus. This may be because transit is a hot-button issue, one that affects people day in and day out. Meanwhile, councils are the most proximate of elected officials to voters, a fact that doesn't escape members.

To ease their political pain, Council members are considering setting up an authority to deal with mass transit and other such projects. Transportation chairman Nestor Garcia envisions a city-funded panel made up of experts with the power to tax, set fares and make decisions, thus washing Council members' hands of the whole enterprise.

The idea is preposterous not only because of constitutional issues, but because of the bureaucratic freight it would carry. Farming out Council duties this way would leave members with little to do but rubber stamp decisions by non-elected bodies.

Council members are elected to represent voters. They are charged with analyzing problems, reviewing solutions and costs and making choices. They can't please all of the people all of the time, but intelligent politicians should be able to explain honestly to taxpayers the basis for their decisions.

Voters will accept logical, sensible solutions. They, too, realize that with tight budgets and scarce revenues, options may be limited. What they won't brook are spineless evasions and inaction.


Citizens must not let
‘chair veto’ rise again


Legislative leaders have let go of a rule that gave a few lawmakers undue powers.

AS EASILY as legislative leaders can set aside an undemocratic rule, they can reinstate it. Although a coalition of citizens has been successful in getting the rule withdrawn, they should remain alert to the inner workings of House-Senate conference committees as they complete work on bills.

For three years, the Legislature conducted business using the unfair practice that allowed one lawmaker to overrule the will of others -- not to mention voters. Last week, a few days before a hearing on a resolution that demanded the rule be revoked, Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say saw the error of their ways and pulled it.

The so-called "chair veto rule" gave chairmen of conference committees -- in which differences in House and Senate versions of bills are worked out -- the power to stymie measures that already had been approved by both bodies. For an amended bill to be reported out of the committee, it had to win the favor of a majority of chairmen. Since such committees generally have only one or two chairmen, one objection was enough to kill a bill -- even if all the other committee members gave their OK.

The rule drew the ire of a number of community groups and individuals, who organized as the Hawaii Pro-Democracy Initiative. They peppered lawmakers with hundreds of petitions and e-mails and, enlisting the support of Sen. Les Ihara, pushed for a resolution to eliminate it. Mindful of the group's growing strength, Say and Bunda relented.

The achievement should motivate the group to challenge another of the Legislature's internal rules, one that grants a chairman the power to smother a measure at the committee level. This procedure is used to block bills lawmakers find unpalatable without having to hear it or even explain why. It gives them a way out without having to face political consequences.

Proposals that have suffered this fate include legislation to make cockfighting a felony, to allow physician-assisted suicide and to hold the cruise ship industry responsible for discharging pollutants in Hawaii waters. Lawmakers contend that they don't have the time to review all the bills submitted, but curiously, the same ones are held in committee session after session.

Eliminating the chair veto rule is a step forward, but there is nothing to prevent its renewal. Citizens should keep their guard up. Old habits are hard to break.



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