Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi announced slight changes to the 25-member chamber’s leadership structure Thursday as lawmakers get ready for the next session, which opens Jan. 18.
But some things are out of his hands.
Touching briefly on the national election results, Kouchi said there’s “much uncertainty.” He noted that President-elect Donald Trump’s policies are unclear — and the impact that could have on the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai in his district, for instance.
“We’re like everyone else, waiting to see what’s going to come out in the transitional plan,” Kouchi said.
Kouchi is not optimistic about federal funding for Hawaii, which voted by a 2-1 ratio in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
“Clearly, with the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, I believe any more federal assistance is going to be very challenging, not just for rail but for every aspect of our lives here in Hawaii,” he said,
Honolulu’s 20-mile rail project was expected to cost $5.2 billion and be completed by 2019, but that figure ballooned over the past year to $8.6 billion and the completion date has been pushed back to 2025.
The project is set to receive $1.55 billion from the feds, but elected officials are in search of more funding to cover the unanticipated costs.
The Legislature may consider another extension of the half-percent general excise tax surcharge that Honolulu is using to primarily fund the project.
Last year, the state authorized the county to extend the surcharge another five years to cover costs through 2027. The surcharge was subsequently approved by the Honolulu City Council and Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who won another four-year term Tuesday.
Kidani Moves To VP, Espero To Floor Leader
As far as the state Senate leadership shuffle goes, the changes were relatively minor.
Sen. Michelle Kidani, who had chaired the Education Committee, will be vice president. And Sen. Will Espero, who was vice president, will be majority floor leader, Kouchi said.
Sen. Kalani English will continue serving as majority leader. Sen. Brickwood Galuteria will still be majority caucus leader, and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz will remain majority whip, Kouchi said.
The so-called “A Bracket” committees will also remain the same: Sen. Roz Baker will continue to chair Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health; Sen. Jill Tokuda will chair Ways and Means; and Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran will chair Judiciary and Labor.
Sen. Josh Green, who had been majority floor leader, said he has been asked to chair the Human Services Committee — a role he welcomes — but the rest of the committee lineups have not been finalized. That’s expected to happen next week, Kouchi said.
“We’ve circulated the memo to get interest of where members would like to serve as we slot the committees,” he said.
Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland had chaired Human Services but did not seek re-election. Rep. Karl Rhoads, who had chaired the House Judiciary Committee, won the race to fill her seat.
Kouchi said he is “honored and grateful” that his colleagues asked him to continue serving as president.
Senate factions — namely, a group of four senators led by Tokuda — realigned to give Kouchi the gavel.
Kouchi said the strange thing about this upcoming session is the absence of any Republican voice.
Sen. Sam Slom had been the chamber’s lone GOP member for years but he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Stanley Chang.
“It’s different this year to simply say ‘the Senate statement’ since there’s no minority in the Senate for the next session,” Kouchi said, referring to the broad position paper that majority Democrats put out.
Despite the Senate being the first one-party chamber in the country since 1980, Kouchi said the public should “expect vigorous debate to continue.”
“The Democratic Party has a large tent,” he said. “We don’t always agree on every issue.”
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