Opening day at the state legislature

Photo courtesy: Jim Mendoza
Photo courtesy: Jim Mendoza

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Senate president Shan Tsutsui set the stage for the 2011 Legislature, saying lawmakers will tackle the economy, education and energy self-sufficiency.

"I open with this assertion that better days are ahead," he said.

The big ticket will be the budget.

The state is facing a projected $800 million shortfall through 2013.

"The budget is really not a budget number. It's a moral document about what we believe are priorities for government," Rep. Roy Takumi said.

Some say the shortfall is small compared to the $2.1 billion deficit of 2009 and the $1.2 billion of 2010.

Lawmakers closed those holes without raising the General Excise Tax or making across-the-board tax hikes.

Republicans will once again hold the line on tax and fee increases.

"We have jobs to create. We have an economy to turn around. And we have a new system of educational governance to establish and a host of other issues," House minority leader Rep. Gene Ward said.

One of the hot topics again will be civil unions.

"What we must do is allow ourselves to have a honest and open debate on this topic," Rep. Blake Oshiro said.

Some observers feel a democratic governor and democratic-controlled legislature all but guarantees a civil unions measure will pass.

"I don't really think it's an issue because it's crystal clear what I think needs to be done. And these are constitutional rights. It's a matter of implementation," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said.

The imbalance of power is most evident in the Senate where republican Sam Slom jokingly calls himself the lone ranger.

"Apparently, throughout the entire United States I'm the only single party senator in a state legislature," he said, wearing a cowboy hat.

Opening days of the legislature traditionally begin with optimism and the harmony of many voices speaking as one.

Now the business by and for the people begins in earnest.

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