Call This Dance The Political Polka

Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama. AP photo

As I write, the fiscal dance apropos the fiscal cliff continues in our nation’s capital. We all know the moves. It’s not a complicated tango. Walter Murray dancing school instructions are needed. The Republicans in the House put their right foot in, the president puts his left foot in, and they shake them all about.

We know the moves, because we’ve watched the fiscal dance for the past four tortured years of Barack Obama’s first administration – over health care reform, debt ceilings, tax policy, over practically everything.

If you’re of my generation, a dance usually ends in an embrace of your partner, or with a little nuzzle, or even if the back is strong enough and your partner light enough, a suggestive dip. But Washington’s 21st century’s fiscal dance never ends in a hug. Indeed, it never seems to end at all.

And the fiscal dance craze has spread from Washington to the furthest corners of the Republic, as far, even, as our own Sandwich Islands.

You doubt me? Consider the fiscal dance between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Neil and the teachers have been gyrating around the dance floor for the past two years. The Guv makes an offer, the teachers vote it down. They work without a contract while negotiations continue. The governor offers a contract covering 2013-2015 that includes a 2 percent pay raise each of the two years.

“Nope,” says Wil Okabe, HSTA president. Not enough of a raise, and teacher evaluations linked to student performance don’t cut it. So Neil and Wil will pick up the beat after the holidays.

When the teachers also will, no doubt, don their red T-shirts and stand by the roadsides after school, waving and wiggling and urging motorists to “Honk if you love teachers!” The fiscal dance can take many forms, not a few of which verge on the bizarre.

For example, Abercrombie is currently dancing with multiple partners. Recently he added Sierra Club Hawaii president Robert Harris to his dance card. Harris’s Clubbers and a group called Earthjustice are suing the state over its attempt to restrict solar tax credits.

Those credits punched a $34.7 million hole in the state budget in 2010, a hole that grew to $173.8 million in 2012. The Council on Revenues warned that the state faced fiscal crisis if the trend continued, so the state cried “Enough!” during last year’s legislative session. When the legislators failed to change the law to plug the budgetary hole, the Department of Taxation issued its own temporary rules to stop the revenue loss.

The dance partner may change, but the steps remain the same: It’s that good old fiscal dance, and it makes strange dance partners. Abercrombie made his political career by nuzzling with union leaders and dipping with environ-mentalists. But as a governor during the Great Recession, the budget has to balance and that means the governor may have to substitute a knee for a nuzzle, a dagger between the ribs for a dip.

Watching fiscal dancers endlessly circle the parquet floor can grow old – which is why last week’s announcement of the acquisition of 1,200 acres in central Oahu for the state’s Agribusiness Development Corporation offers a welcome ray of hope. The land will be used to encourage farmers, ranchers and aquaculturalists to expand local food production. No housing developments, commercial zoning or fiscal dancing in the dirt allowed.