POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 26, 2011
Action at the state Capitol this week will go a long way toward defining the governorship of Neil Abercrombie, the state's feisty 72-year old Democratic leader.
So far Abercrombie gets along with the majority Democrats in the Legislature, but he is unable to get much from them.
Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee rejected two of his Board of Regent nominees and Abercrombie has had to pull back the nominations of his health director and a Circuit Court judgeship given to a former Abercrombie staffer.
Now he faces his sternest test as he tries to revive his vision of state government.
Right now, the Legislature's leaders don't see what he sees.
According to Abercrombie, Hawaii's citizens want a budget that provides the money to make government work. "Government is often unable to meet the public's basic expectations: having adequate learning tools for our school children, providing basic services to the most vulnerable populations, getting business permits in a timely fashion …
"Government must earn back the public trust," Abercrombie said in a written statement.
To pay for Abercrombie's "we believe in government" budget, the governor wants to raise taxes, but the Abercrombie taxes are failing.
"The Legislature has struggled with many of the governor's controversial revenue proposals that are intended to bridge the budget gap. It is clear that public concern and legislative pragmatism will not permit the passage of a number of these measures in the form in which they were originally proposed," said the Senate Ways and Means Committee report.
The Senate then cut $300 million out of Abercrombie's budget, saving only $37 million for a delayed retirement system payment.
The WAM report said "many state programs are operating with skeleton crews and minimal resources, the current revenue picture has required a close evaluation of these requests and the exercise of constraint."
Instead of spending more, the Senate told Abercrombie he should "prudently use the economic downturn to take a long and hard look at the executive branch's organizational structure. Your committee stands ready to receive and evaluate his proposals."
Early on, Abercrombie called for state government to be restructured. Changing state worker pensions, health insurance payments and even corresponding Medicare Part B payments were what Abercrombie wanted.
If that is what Abercrombie meant by restructuring government, then state government shall not be moved, because the Legislature shows no interest in his ideas.
The battle line is closer than just restructuring. Abercrombie says his budget is "a transformation of politics in Hawaii that is at the core of the New Day Plan."
While calling for a state budget with "personal responsibility, shared sacrifice, long-term investment and cooperation," his Democratic colleagues are more comfortable with "legislative pragmatism."
While Abercrombie warns in his weekly video message that "If we are going to raise taxes, which we must to get out of this hole, then we should accept nothing less than giving taxpayers more value for their dollars."
Budget realities, however, may mean that less money means less service.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at email rborreca @staradvertiser.com.