Maui clout

Twenty-five years ago, Maui County was riding high in the state Legislature. Mamoru Yamasaki was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, and Joe Souki was speaker of the House.

State government thought it was rich, because of $500 million a year in payments from Duty Free Shoppers, and the political word was that this would be the last time that Maui, or any Neighbor Island, would be so well placed to get state funding for local projects. Once the unusual combo of Yama and Joe ended their dominance, Oahu would take over.

And for a generation, so it seemed.

Then, one month ago, it looked like 1988 all over again. Well, almost. Souki was slated to be speaker again, after some years on the outs with Democratic House leadership. Yama had passed away, but young Shan Tsutsui would continue as Senate president.

Then Dan Inouye died. Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate, and Tsutsui accepted an appointment to replace him as lieutenant governor.

So, although Maui County came within days of regaining its legislative clout, suddenly it dissolved.

Of course, DFS is out of the picture and the state no longer thinks of itself as flush. Gil Keith-Agaran, who is nominated to move up to the Senate; leaving a hole in the House leadership where he had a shot at majority leader.

So it remains to be seen how well Maui County will do in the jockeying for state funding, especially for CIP (capital) projects. Keith-Agaran notes that since the days of the Yama-Joe duo, the budget has been restuctured so that CIP is rolled into the overall spending program.

Maui County would dearly like to return to the days when the state picked up a big part of water, solid waste and sewage treatment obligations; but the outlook for that looks slightly less rosy than it did late in 2012.