Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The $1.8 billion question


A morning of festivities, food and laughter today masked a darker reality that became clear by mid-
afternoon – the economy is in a world of hurt, and state government is grappling to find a solution.

Even the festivities at the opening day of the 25th Legislature were on the cheap – student performers from area elementary, middle and high schools replaced the professionals that have entertained on the House floor in previous years. After all the hoopla, a joint House-Senate money committee grilled administration budget chiefs on how the state can work itself out of an anticipated $1.8 billion hole by 2011.

Speeches by House and Senate officers and majority and minority leaders stressed bipartisan cooperation. House Speaker Calvin Say called the $1.8 billion shortfall over three years the worst budget crisis he’s seen in his 32 years in the Legislature.

“We must make up this shortfall, and this will be our major challenge,” Say, D-St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, said. “Everybody has to be part of the solution.”

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-Nanakuli, Makaha, hit many of the same notes in her speech.

“These are the times when we must say what we can do and what we will do,” Hanabusa said. “These are the times when we can no longer afford partisanship or politics as usual. Times when our obligation is to bring the service, vision, and leadership we were elected to provide. Times when we stop looking for political points and start looking for the solutions.”

The Republican minority pushed for togetherness as well. It was the Republican leader of House, not the Democratic one, who drew applause by congratulating Hawaii-born President Barack Obama on his inauguration the day before. House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-Lower Pearlridge,

Aiea, Halawa, went on to liken cooperation in government to the plantation creation of saimen, made when Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Portuguese workers threw their contributions into a massive stewpot to make enough food for a crowd.

“People of Hawaii, the future is now,” Finnegan said. “Tough times are here, but if we are committed to working together, we will forge a better tomorrow.”

Finnegan’s food analogy was carried into her office, where, like the other legislators, she threw the doors open to serve food to constituents. In Finnegan’s case, saimen was on the menu.