Railing Against Lingle Turnabout

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - July 21, 2005

“So, governor, what happened between Friday (July 9) and Monday (July 12) for you to change your intent to veto HB1309 to allowing it to pass without your signature?”

This was just one of many questions I had for Gov. Linda Lingle on my radio show last week.

HB1309 is the bill that authorizes the counties to raise the state general excise tax by 12.5 percent to the rate of 4.5 percent. I have been in decided opposition to the tax increase and a rail transit project funded and maintained by taxpayers.

There was a collective sigh of relief by many when the governor indicated she intended to veto HB1309. Small businesses, transit opponents and taxpayers at large were comforted that we had dodged a huge bullet. I and many others believe the GET increase, which will remove $150 million-$160 million per year from our pockets, would be a devastating policy.

I also believe the construction of a “Music Man” transportation system will saddle taxpayers with a gargantuan expense without alleviating traffic congestion. These points have been qualified, quantified and repeated over and over again in testimony, debate and discussion for ages.

I remember on my radio program, when learning of her intent to veto HB1309, I said, “I have a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate, but I’m not opening it yet. Anything can happen in Hawaii politics.”

Sure enough, anything happened last Monday afternoon.

Lingle has consistently maintained her support of HB1309 is to allow counties to make their own decisions and not be dictated to by the state. Her “home rule” position is the centerpiece of her defense when asked, “Why did you allow this to happen?” The basis for her intent to veto message is found in the language of HB1309 which provides a 10 percent surcharge on the excise tax collected by the county. A tenth of the anticipated $150 million to $160 million the city will gain is a windfall to the state coffers of $15 million to $16 million per year. The governor informed Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the legislative leadership that the counties need to find a way to administer the tax themselves. They resisted. She was prepared to veto.

So what did happen in the days leading up to the July 12 deadline?

Obviously, a deal was struck. I recall among the conditions set forth by the governor was if there were to be a special session, and there was, the Legislature would be required to definitively change the language of HB1309 by removing the surcharge provision. But the form this compromise took keeps the original language intact, including the surcharge of 10 percent. All the governor received in return for her reversal of intent to veto were assurances that House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Bobby Bunda would introduce legislation next session to remove the surcharge provision and they would encourage their members to approve it.

Huh? Anybody can introduce legislation, but it is another thing to pass legislation. It doesn’t matter if Say and Bunda publicly stated their intentions. Haven’t we seen a politician publicly say one thing and do another? Of course we have.

We saw it last Monday.

Unfortunately, with the governor accepting this deal, she lost the leverage to ensure the key change to the bill on which she based her opposition. By allowing the bill to become law, there is no motivation for the Democrat majority to institute the changes she has demanded.

We have lost the ability to debate this issue to the extent it deserves. It’s undeniable that our community needs to solve what has become a daunting traffic congestion problem through the H-1 corridor. But to fast-track the collection of taxes to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year without a federally accepted plan is ludicrous.

With the passage of HB1309, where will be the serious consideration of HOT lanes, staggering of government work hours, getting uninsured motorists off the streets, the development of the UH-West Oahu campus and the true decentralization of the work force from Honolulu Metro to Kapolei? Why should there be? We just approved the “funding mechanism” for a $3 billion train. The reality is virtually all supporters of rail are eager to see a train running because they are looking for ways to have fewer cars on the road so their drive is more enjoyable. Therein lies the reason for the inevitable demise of the rail system that you, your kids and their kids will be paying for as long as it’s on the track.

And when you find the cost becoming too unbearable? Look up Neil Abercrombie, Hannemann, Gary Okino, Say, Bunda and, yes, Lingle and ask them … oh, wait. They’ll be out of office by then, and you’ll be driving by an empty train.

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