Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie chose the Maui County finance director yesterday to be his budget chief and tapped a veteran Hawaii island lawmaker as the state’s top labor official.
Abercrombie nominated Kalbert Young, who has been the finance director in Maui County for the past six years, as director of the state Department and Budget and Finance. Young had previous finance and economic development roles at the Kapalua Land Co., the Legislature and Kamehameha Schools.
The governor-elect picked state Sen. Dwight Takamine (D, Hamakua-South Hilo) as director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Takamine is known as a union advocate, and he and his father, former International Longshore and Warehouse Union leader Yoshito Takamine, have represented the Hamakua coast in either the state House or Senate since statehood.
The Cabinet nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.
If Takamine is confirmed, there will be a Senate vacancy. Since the seat is held by a Democrat, the Democratic Party of Hawaii will recommend three potential nominees to Abercrombie, who will choose Takamine’s replacement. The replacement will serve until the 2012 elections.
"They are a part of our growing team dedicated to our goal of rebuilding our economy to create good-paying jobs during these difficult times while investing in the people of Hawaii," said Abercrombie, who is in Washington, D.C., in a statement.
Young, if confirmed, will have the important role of budget director as the state moves out of recession and into economic recovery. Abercrombie has said he would not raise the general excise tax or extend public worker furloughs to balance the budget, so if revenues fall short, further spending cuts might be necessary.
"I think, overall, there is reason to be optimistic on the budget picture," Young said. "There are indications that there are some positive signs in our overall economy. We’re definitely not out of the economic downturn yet, but the Council on Revenues is showing some optimism there, the No. 1 industry in the state (tourism) is showing some very good, strong numbers, so I think in that respect we may have a little more room in terms of the revenue picture."
Georgina Kawamura, budget director under Gov. Linda Lingle, was also the budget director on Maui before her appointment.
Lowell Kalapa, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, said Young and Abercrombie will likely have to make some difficult choices given Abercrombie’s campaign promises and the fragile state of the recovery. "This is the worst time. There is no money. The budget has been cut and all the departments are whining," he said.
Takamine, an attorney, was chairman of the Senate Labor Committee before losing power in the recent Senate reorganization. He was also a leader on finance and labor issues during his two decades in the House. He was elected to the Senate two years ago.
Takamine said he is interested in work-force development to help people who are unemployed or those who are working but still struggling to make ends meet. "I sense some excitement and a renewed sense of hope. There are so many opportunities to work together now, to make progress," he said.
Abercrombie, recognizing that some in the business community might consider Takamine too friendly to unions, named Audrey Hidano — known as a small-business advocate — as deputy director for labor. Hidano, co-founder of Hidano Construction, previously served as deputy director at the department and was also president of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.
"Are they yin and yang? Are they going to balance each other out?" Kalapa asked. "Neil has always gone to bat for the unions, so the appointment of someone like Takamine is the M.O."
Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, believes Abercrombie was striving for balance. He said the department under Lingle has been tilted toward management and business views.
"Obviously, all of us in the labor community are very pleased," he said of Takamine’s nomination. "It is a dramatic departure from the Lingle administration’s selections."