by Andrew Walden
The war between Neil Abercrombie and Dan Inouye for control of the Democratic Party now focuses on a key battle over whether to raid the Rail Fund to patch Abercrombie’s artificially-inflated budget gap.
The Inouye forces, centered in Calvin Say’s House are backing GE Tax hikes repealing exemptions for subcontractors and other businesses.
The Abercrombie forces, based in Shan Tsutsui’s prayer-less Senate want to “borrow” the $200M Raid Fund. The Star-Advertiser March 13 reports:
Instead, the Senate wants to partially balance the budget by taking the next couple of years' worth of tax collections designated for the Honolulu rail project….
"We are not supportive of the Senate plan to take the rail money; we are very skeptical of this," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, House Democratic leader.
"Sen. (Daniel K.) Inouye has indicated strong, strong, strong concerns about doing that. ... We worry that the feds will start questioning why we are taking away the rail's source of funding.
"Playing around with this is extremely dangerous," Oshiro says.
But (Sen. David) Ige, (Ways and Means Committee chairman) notes that one of the state's big rail boosters, Gov. Abercrombie, last week told the Senate Democrats that he would not oppose the tax-transfer plan, if the feds don't object.
“The feds” is Barack Obama, who might be inclined to show his “support” for rail by approving Abercrombie’s raid, knowing that House Republicans will do the heavy lifting to kill the project.
None of this is about jobs, traffic, or development. It is about who will pick Hawaii’s winners and losers. Will it be Inouye?
Or will is be Abercrombie, who—starting up where Cayetano let off--has hired a Pay to Play figure to “be key in initiating the Governor’s Capital Improvement Projects.”
Inouye’s Rail would be overseen by a Transit Authority largely immune to interference by Abercrombie and the Progressives. But if Inouye can’t deliver the pork, what good is he? The defeat of rail would force desperate contractors to come begging to Abercrombie, wallets open.
An who should show up, joining Abercrombie, Obama, and Tsutsui in piling on against Inouye? Why none other than Cayetano himself, who held a January 31 news conference launching a new anti-rail lawsuit challenging the City’s procurement practices.
And finally the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp and progressive Democrat lawyer David Frankel—who as Sierra Club Chair hired Jack Kelly to assault Hokulia—filed a lawsuit challenging the handling of native Hawaiian burials and cultural sites. The NHLC suit led the Star-Advertiser’s Richard Borreca to compare rail to the decades-long battle over the H-3 and write “Don't count on riding Honolulu rail any time soon.”
Inouye is coming to the end of his string. Forced to let go of Dan Akaka, Inouye told Island Insights February 24:
The last election I was able to concentrate fully on Senator Akaka. But now I’m President Pro-Tem, I’m Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Leadership Council. And as such they expect me—as one of the leaders of the Senate--to help all Democrats, not just one. And I’ve been doing that even during my own reelection time…. In the last election, 2006, when Danny Akaka ran I was able to help him in six figures. This time I doubt that.
Inouye’s reasons for concentrating on mainland races is simple. If Republicans re-take control of the US Senate, Inouye’s influence will drop sharply. Stripped of his cross-aisle partnership with the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, Inouye will be far less effective in the minority than he has been in the past.
Republicans and Progressives are asserting themselves and the old boy system is dissolving into a two-party system.