Lingle’s Brave Stand On GET

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - July 07, 2005

The recent intent-to-veto message to the state Legislature by Gov. Linda Lingle regarding HB1309 is promising news.

As you recall, HB1309 is the bill empowering the counties to institute a 12.5 percent increase to the existing 4 percent General Excise Tax in order to fund transportation projects. On Oahu, the mayor and some members of the City Council are supporting a fixed rail transit system with an estimated cost of at least $2.7 billion. The tax increase would be used, as we are being assured, to fund the design and construction of such a project.

Whether you agree with her or not, Lingle’s position has been consistently one in opposition to an increase of the GET. To clarify, the governor has expressed opposition to the state levying or administering the tax. She has said many times on my radio program that she will oppose any state initiative to increase the tax. If a county believes a tax increase is required to improve its transportation challenges, however, then she actively supports its right to tax. It is important to clarify that the governor cannot directly impose a GET increase; she can only give the elected county officials the authority to tax. If a tax increase is to be passed, it must be done by the county, not the governor. Furthermore, the governor believes with this authority, the county must administer the tax, too.

She is absolutely right.

An anticipated non-veto by the governor, however, greatly concerns those who look to her for a rejection of any tax increase, especially one so onerous and regressive. I share the desire for the governor to flatly veto HB1309. I have exhaustively discussed and debated this issue on the radio, in this space and I have even conducted a rally at TheBigSquareBuilding to express this demand with likeminded, pro-active citizens. But it is clear the governor is not prepared to veto this bill. I know you’ll gasp, but I wouldn’t either, if I were her.

Lingle served on the Maui County Council and as Maui mayor, and now is governor. During her years as a county official she experienced the state turning over property taxing authority and collections to individual counties. She believed, and still believes, in the concept of home rule. She wants the counties to have more control over their own destinies rather than having the state dictate what they should do. The only reason the state is even involved is because the GET is a state tax. The counties may increase property and fuel taxes. In order to generate the approximate $160 million a year, the GET is the practical choice of tax increase.

But wait a minute. Practical or not, the city can still implement a tax hike to generate the same revenue as the increase to the GET. According to City Councilman Nestor Garcia, the city could increase the gasoline tax by 55 percent and property taxes 45 percent ( Clearly this is not a political option because this is a tax people will feel immediately. I am certain there would be a revolt if gas went over $3 per gallon. But if the mayor and the Council truly believed in the benefits of this project, then they should be able to justify it to the people who are ultimately going to foot the bill no matter how they end up paying.

Lastly, although I would dearly love for the governor to veto HB1309, I cannot expect her to turn tail on an issue she has promoted since her first days in office. I see the governor at least once a week. I can see her agonizing over this issue, but I do give her credit. She is not a fair weather leader. If you really listen to her reasoning, she could no more betray the words she has spoken, the testimony she has provided and the ardent support she had demonstrated for counties to have increased autonomy from the state. It would be akin to people lobbying me to renege on my position and support an increase in the GET. That ain’t gonna happen. Despite the haranguing she gets from people like me, she is indeed sticking to her principle — and that is refreshing to see in any politician.

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