A Call For Lingle To Veto GET Bill

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 09, 2005

I am officially lobbying Governor Lingle to veto HB1309.

HB1309 is the bill passed by the Legislature this past session which authorizes the counties to bump the General Excise Tax to 4.5 percent which is a 12.5 percent increase over the present 4 percent. If HB1309 gets the swift and sure death it deserves from the governor’s pen, then the audacious majority of the Honolulu City Council and Mayor Mufi Hannemann will have to put the brakes on a fast-tracked plan to pass the GET increase.

The majority members of the City Council, led by Nestor Garcia, Gary Okino and Todd Apo, are really chomping at the bit to get this thing passed. Kudos to Barbara Marshall and Charles Djou for standing firm on the very foundation of opposition to this rail/tax increase, “What is the plan?”

Led by Mayor Mufi, our city government is hellbent on raising this tax and building this train to create jobs to keep the construction industry moving. Imagine delivering a multibillion-dollar project right to the feet of your primary political supporters. When they’re done building the train, they’ll erect a statue. Better yet, they will carve the likenesses of politicians who pushed this project through into the Pali a la Mount Rushmore.

As of this reading, the Honolulu City Council is expected to have passed Bill 40, which increases the GET. The vote will probably be closer than anticipated, but still short of killing the bill. This means the veto by Lingle literally is the last chance for those of us who oppose this tax increase and by extension, a rail transit system.

I hope the governor will consider a couple of things before the July 12 deadline to sign, veto or allow passage without signature all remaining bills.

Most know her primary opposition to a veto is preserving county home rule, which is understandable since the governor is a former mayor who has consistently supported this autonomy. I can understand her reluctance to dictate to the counties what they can and can’t do. However, the language of HB1309 does not qualify it as a home rule bill. Genuine home rule legislation would not only give the counties taxing authority, but the discretion to do whatever they want with the proceeds. That is not the case with 1309. Honolulu County would be relegated to using any GET revenues only for a rail transportation system. Other counties can use the money for other transportation projects.

There is the matter of a provision in HB1309, which would require the state to collect 10 percent from all GET monies generated by the county surcharge. If the City and County of Honolulu takes what is projected to be approximately $160 million in GET, the state would retain $16 million for “administrative costs.” Really. There are two parallel issues here. One is the constitutionality of, in essence, the state taxing a tax. Secondly, one of the caveats for the governor’s support of a mass transit project is no state tax increase to pay for it. But wait a minute. The state still profits from the implementation of the GET increase. The GET is technically a state tax. By administering this tax, and if the state does not spend every single dime of that approximately $16 million “fee” collected, then it is a tax. Hence, another violation of one of Lingle’s conditions for not supporting an increase in the GET.

The real bottom line? Lingle emerged from the dark days of the late ’80s and ’90s as the best hope to put an end to the status quo of single political party domination. Thousands upon thousands supported her against an incumbent Democrat governor and missed the victory by a few thousand votes. In the ensuing years, support for the governor’s promise of positive change and a “new beginning” catapulted her into office. Many of us still ardently support the governor.

That is why this veto is so important. By eliminating HB1309, Lingle will fulfill the wishes and expectations of her supporters. Governor, your core constituency is looking for your leadership in doing what so many believe to be the right thing. We are asking you to spare the taxpayers of this community from a boondoggle of a “make work” project; a project that will perpetually require taxpayer money to construct, operate and maintain to the tune of billions of dollars.

Please, Governor Lingle, veto HB 1309.

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