The 27th state Legislature was gaveled into session today, marked by the usual fanfare of song and entertainment and leadership changes in both chambers.
House members chose a new speaker for the first time in 14 years, returning to the post a familiar face in Speaker Emeritus Rep. Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku).
Souki, backed by a coalition that includes the chamber’s seven Republicans, takes command of the House from the man who ousted him as speaker after the 1998 election, Rep. Calvin Say (D, Palolo-St. Louis Heights-Kaimuki).
In his opening remarks, Souki acknowledged challenges faced by the state caused in large part by a sluggish economy, and called on colleagues to proceed “intelligently.”
“We have the chance now, to rebuild what the recession took away,” he said in prepared remarks.
Souki called for a mix of strategies to generate more state revenues in an equitable fashion.
Those strategies include rethinking various tax credits and taking a serious look at the costs of those credits to the state. He also called for an incremental roll back in the personal tax burden for people with lower incomes and the middle class.
Souki also thanked Say for his 14 years of service in the speaker’s chair. Recognizing Souki’s support, Say said prior to session he would not seek the speaker’s post.
Say offered today a floor amendment that provided his loyalists a chance to vote on the record for his chosen successor, Rep. Marcus Oshiro. The amendment was rejected by a voice vote.
House Minority Leader Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson (R, Fort Shafter, Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu) also thanked Say for his service and said Republicans would work hard to find common ground, and respectfully dissent where they felt it necessary.
He said Republicans would seek legislation to increase protections for children and the elderly, guard against cost of living increases and improve accountability and transparency in government.
“On these issues, where common ground and common cause can be found, we will work hard to find it,” Johanson said in prepared remarks.
In the Senate, President Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Moanalua-Halawa) took the gavel from former President Shan Tsutsui, who was promoted to lieutenant governor last month. Tsutsui had been president since the start of the 2010 session.
Kim also acknowledged the state’s improved economic outlook that greets lawmakers to start the 2013 session.
“After several years of belt-tightening, we’re greeting this session with a rosier economic outlook,” Kim said in prepared remarks.
She stressed the need to hold the line on taxes to not overburden families still struggling through the recession.
“We still have lingering fiscal concerns and potential new ones, among them possible cutbacks in federal funding, and many are looking to the state to make up the difference,” she said. “Despite all of these demands, and the anticipation of better economic times, I hope, first and foremost, that there will be no new tax burdens thrust upon our citizens — that we will not automatically open the taxpayers’ pocketbooks to every budget request, every new proposal, every capital improvement project.”