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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Leave governor’s budgetary powers alone

The governor wears many hats, and one of them is as CEO of Hawaii. The state Constitution makes it so, requiring the governor to balance the budget, thus establishing a clear line of accountability.

That’s why Senate Bill 2007 is a disastrous idea. It would effectively tie the governor’s hands and leave no one accountable for state finances. The buck wouldn‘t stop with anyone.
The bill, sponsored by Senate leadership, seems to be on a fast track. It has passed the only committee review needed before the full Senate votes on it.
The bill would deny the governor the power to eliminate any program the Legislature has authorized, or to cut its funds “to the extent that the program cannot adequately execute its intended purpose.”
But the term “adequately execute” is meaningless, so this bill essentially opens for challenge any of the budget restrictions the governor makes without prior approval by the Legislature.
If the past year has proved anything, it’s that this setup would be unworkable. The Legislature last year balanced the budget based on projections of tax revenue, and then it adjourned.
But after legislators went home, millions evaporated and there was only one person in a position to balance the state’s checkbook: Gov. Linda Lingle. So she made more cuts.
Imagine waiting for lawmakers to call special sessions whenever budget adjustments are needed. Don’t forget, this means relying on the same House of Representatives that just demonstrated its fear of accountability in an election year by refusing an open vote on civil unions. And neither chamber showed much stomach for reconvening last fall, even for an issue as important as furloughs of teachers.
No, thank you. It’s far more rational to have the governor, who can’t easily hide from the public, to make these calls. Legislators still have the option to reconvene in special session for a dispute that’s truly critical, but that exercise should be the exception, not the rule.
SB 2007 tries to turn the job of governor into little more than a ceremonial post. Lawmakers should kill this impractical and unwise bill and let the CEO do the job.