Sunday, November 4, 2001

Retailers give mixed
reactions to session

Some small-business owners say they
were overlooked in the legislative session

Gov blasts Legislature for shortfall in action

By Tim Ruel

While some small-business owners saw a wasted effort in the special legislative session, other industry leaders said lawmakers provided some real relief that will help Hawaii's economy recover.

The $10 million fund approved for an emergency visitor marketing campaign is important to the state, said Carol Pregill, executive director of Retail Merchants of Hawaii. Visitor spending plays a huge role in the state's economy and is critical to retailers, she said.

Several retail owners have told her they are just two weeks away from going out of business, she said.

"It's part of looking at a new reality for us," Pregill said.

While she applauded the increased spending for marketing Hawaii's No. 1 industry, Pregill bemoaned the quick death of a Republican House bill for an excise tax holiday. That would have really helped, she said.

Dominic Aki, owner of a small Oahu tour guide firm, Mauka Makai Excursions, was not pleased with most of the bills that passed.

"I think a lot of that is geared toward big business," Aki said, noting he did not pay much attention to the special session to begin with. "I'd like to see more attention directed toward small business, really."

The one bill Aki supported will allow more companies to delay payments for withholding and excise taxes. The new law will allow companies to pay the taxes quarterly instead of monthly, which temporarily frees extra cash for a business.

To tour packager Annette Kaohelaulii, the only positive out of the session was an extension for unemployment insurance benefits. The bill is directed at those who were laid off after Sept. 11.

"That's the only thing that I see that they did right," said Kaohelaulii, who owns Annette's Adventures in Kaneohe. She saw no real point to the special session otherwise, and said she was not surprised the Legislature did not do more to help small business.

"They never do. They don't know how," she said.

All in all, the session was "worthwhile," said Keith Vieira, vice president and director of Hawaii operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. He supported the income tax credits for hotel and home renovations.

Vieira also is a board member of the state Hawaii Tourism Authority, which lobbied for the $10 million spending campaign.

"It may be self-serving," Vieira said, but the money will have a trickle effect in Hawaii's economy, helping tourism firms generate more business, then rehire workers.

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