Lobbyists, lawmakers and activists have been busy for weeks, but the Hawaii state Legislature officially opened shortly after 10 a.m. today with an oli and hula in the House chamber, and a prayer of gratitude for the privilege of living and working in Hawaii.
An above-ground imu assembled by activist Daniel Anthony in a trailer on the grounds of Iolani Palace next to the state Capitol provided an unusual backdrop for the formalities, and supporters of Hawaiian language education staged their annual poi-pounding event in the Capitol rotunda.
These are good times for the state, which is enjoying record-setting tax collections as the Hawaii economy continues to boom, but lawmakers have expressed concern about some alarming signs in the world economy. The record-setting shutdown of portions of the federal government and the December declines in the U.S. stock market are worrisome, they say.
Gov. David Ige has requested that lawmakers budget more than $2 billion for state construction projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1, which is an unusually large request for a single year. However, Senate President Ron Kouchi says he is concerned that the economy may be weakening, and it makes sense to spend public money on infrastructure now to create jobs.
Exactly which communities will benefit from that extra spending is likely to be the subject of much debate this year as lawmakers make a case for investing that money in schools, roads, housing and other public projects in their neighborhoods.
Left-leaning Democrats have also promised there will be a strong push this year to establish a statewide $17 minimum wage, but push-back from small businesses and the state and county business organizations is likely to be fierce.
The Ige administration is also deep into negotiations with the state’s public worker unions, with most public employees contracts scheduled to expire on June 30. Since the state has been running sizable budget surpluses for years now, there will be significant pressure on the administration and lawmakers to fund a new round of raises for public employees
This morning’s events signal the start of the 30th Biennial Hawaii State Legislature. The House will feature entertainment by Henry Kapono & Friends as well as remarks by House Speaker Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully), Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai) and Majority Leader Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili-Makiki-Tantalus).
The proceedings in the Senate will include opening day speeches by Kouchi (D, Kauai-Niihau) and Sen. Kurt Fevella (R-Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), the lone Republican in the 25-member Senate.
This year’s 60-day session is scheduled to adjourn on May 2.