“It’s the economy, stupid” — the mantra Bill Clinton used in his 1992 election to the presidency — is the theme most heard around the halls of the state Capitol this month.

With session opening Wednesday, the top focus is to stabilize and grow the economy, and to create jobs.

The fiscal situation is far better than it was just a year ago, so there may be opportunities to spend a little more rather than trim a whole lot. Unlike last session, there are not expected to be the major kinds of policy clashes between the state House and state Senate and with the Abercrombie administration that imperiled the state budget.

Look for spending on capital improvement projects to stimulate growth in the short-term. CIP is a win-win-win-win-win: there’s a huge backlog of needed repairs and maintenance, construction companies get money, more people get work, lawmakers campaign on having fixed a bridge, created a bypass, spruced up a school or expanded a harbor and Gov. Neil Abercrombie can issue rosy press releases and smile during groundbreaking ceremonies.

This month’s downward projection from the Council on Revenues throws some cold water on those goals, as does the state’s massive and growing unfunded liabilities for state retirees, as does the still unsettled business of labor contracts. Lawmakers may again look for more sources of revenue, such as a tax on sugary drinks (something that failed last session), and by hiking yet more fees for services.

Keep in mind that the House and Senate, though both dominated by Democrats, often have starkly different views on best approaches — something illustrated by the fight over taxing pensions in 2011. One chamber can kill another’s cherished plan, while a single lawmaker can kill a bill supported by a majority.

Still, in a crucial election year, Democrats will do their best to be seen singing from the same hymnal. Here’s a rough guide of what to expect this session.

GAMBLING It’s the issue everyone is talking about. It includes a call for a stand-alone casino, perhaps in Waikiki, and allowing Internet poker in the state.

Gambling has never taken hold in the islands (legally, anyway). Although Las Vegas is called Hawaii’s ninth island — because we really really love to gamble — we also like to think we are somehow different than every other state except Utah.

Advocates of gaming think this may be their best chance yet, given the state’s hunger for a dependable cash flow. Others say the 2012 session will mostly be about getting more folks to warm to the idea of gaming, with the real test in the 2013 session — a year in which no one is running for re-election.

KAKAAKO The proposed deal between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to give OHA 25 acres in Kakaako to settle a $200 million tab on ceded-land revenues will be a critical issue this session.

Proponents argue that it’s an historic agreement that closes a wound that has long been festering. But some lawmakers are still grumbling that OHA and the Abercrombie administration have largely left them out of the loop on the deal. Residents and users of Kakaako have also proven that they will have their say for any plans in their backyard.

PRISONS It’s called “justice reinvestment,” and it has the potential to dramatically overhaul the state’s crowded criminal justice system. The data-driven analysis from the Council of State Governments Justice Center determines what’s working and what is not, from arrests to prison to parole to rehabilitation.

The fact that Abercrombie has scheduled a press conference Tuesday on justice reinvestment, shortly after the center’s working group makes its recommendations, bodes well for its implementation. The House and Senate public safety committees have already scheduled a hearing for Wednesday afternoon on “JRI,” just hours after session opens.

It’s not a done deal, however. Thorny issues could include halfway houses and rehab centers to transition former inmates into society. Not a lot of people want that in their backyards.

ETHICS Legislators were caught in the act of trying to open the door to gifts of tickets, golf and travel to lawmakers and state employees last session. The “gifts bill” died (though it’s technically still alive).

What’s changed since then is a State Ethics Commission that has taken a more aggressive approach to enforcing the State Ethics Code, especially executive director Les Kondo. Many legislators don’t much like how Kondo and the commission have interpreted the laws they wrote — most recently seen in the blowback to the “Taste of Ag” invite last week from two influential agriculture lobbies.

These legislators think there are legitimate reasons for lobbyists for business, labor and other interests to meet and greet with lawmakers outside of the Capitol. One possibility is legislation allowing lawmakers to accept food and drink, but that any “invite ticket” exceeding $50 be reported on lawmaker’s annual gift disclosures. Another is allowing members of task forces to lobby the Legislature on the very issues before task forces — something the Ethics Commission has also ruled against.

POTPOURRI There’s a lot of other issues before the Ledge, but let’s just highlight a few:

• easing medical marijuana laws regarding dispensaries, growing and transportation of med pot;

• bringing the state’s ancient information technology system into the present century, and expanding broadband access;

• developing space tourism and lunar research on the Big Island;

• cracking down on puppy mills and dog breeders, and on harvesting of aquarium fish;

• sustaining local agriculture and renewable energy to wean Hawaii off imported food and fuel;

• strengthening the mortgage foreclosure bill passed last session to help homeowners;

• revisiting the suspension of some of those general excise tax exemptions that helped to balance the budget but also hurt small businesses;

• streamlining the state permitting process and building codes to expedite development projects; and

• increasing scrutiny of the newly created Public Land Development Corporation: some lawmakers think it’s too powerful while others think state laws (read: environmental) should be eased to help spur private-sector interest.

One other big social issue may get some play: physician-assisted suicide, which has been debated for years yet gone nowhere. The latest development centers on a controversial interpretation of existing law that says doctors can already aid people seeking to terminate their life.

We’ve yet to hear what the governor will say in his State of the State address Jan. 23. It seems likely, however, that it will not be as ambitious as last year’s. Abercrombie, for example, won’t call for the end of state-funded reimbursement for federal Medicare Part B benefits for Hawaii government employees.

What he and other Democrats most want to project this session is unity. All 76 seats are up for re-election, and reapportionment means some lawmakers may face fellow incumbents.

The greatest gift to the Hawaii Republican Party in 2012 would be a governor who remains the most unpopular in the country and a Legislature that can’t, or won’t, work with him.

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