Saturday, February 9, 2002

Gubernatorial candidate Jeremy Harris thanked his rain-soaked supporters yesterday afternoon during a rally at Honolulu Hale. A statewide poll released this week showed Harris' favorable rating has slipped as Linda Lingle's has steadily risen.

Late taxpayer amnesty
under consideration

By Pat Omandam

Delinquent taxpayers who make good on their back taxes in the year following their delinquency would not have to pay any penalties, under a one-time tax amnesty program heard this week in the state House.

Legislature 2002 The state Tax Department estimates the state is owed nearly $255 million in unpaid taxes as of last Oct. 31.

Michael Kahikina (D, Nanakuli), House human services and housing chairman, said the amnesty period would be between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2003. The measure encourages people to voluntarily pay their overdue taxes in exchange for forgiveness of any penalties due.

If only 50 percent successful, it would mean an infusion of more than $125 million into the state General Fund, he said.

"It's straightforward, costs next to nothing to implement and doesn't put essential state services at risk in order to be successful," Kahikina said.

In other news at the state Capitol this week:

>> Traffic cameras: A legislative effort to repeal the state's traffic camera demonstration project has moved to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Several senators are worried about ending the contract, which would cost more than $1 million. But others responded that the program is flawed and must be stopped. They said the state Department of Transportation can return with a new traffic camera plan if it wishes.

>> Mandatory cuts: The state Board of Education approved further budget cuts of up to $36.2 million for the next school year as it prepares different budget scenarios for the state Legislature. The mandatory cuts affect the A+ program, computer education and English for Second Language teachers.

>> Pay day: Gov. Ben Cayetano approved a $20 million appropriations bill, the very first act of this session, to pay expenses of the Legislature, the legislative auditor, the Legislative Reference Bureau and the ombudsman through June 30, 2003. The state Senate gets $5.2 million, while the House gets $7.5 million.

>> Hawaiian Affairs: The Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee will vote Tuesday on the fate of several bills dealing with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. One of them would abolish OHA in favor of a Hawaiian autonomy trust, while another would give the agency $17 million in ceded-land revenue next fiscal year. Also on the table are retirement benefits for trustees.

Meanwhile, OHA is set to pick a new chairman Wednesday, its sixth in five years.

>> Total recall: The state House will debate on Monday three bills recalled by Republicans this week. They deal with the creation of eight local school boards of education; the exemption of food, rent and health-care services from the general excise tax; and the refund of money in the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to those homeowners who paid into it.

>> Rental fee hike: The Legislature is moving toward authorizing the counties to tax rental cars up to $5 a day to pay for highway improvements. The measure would help Maui County improve the state's Honoapiilani Highway, which links Kahului to Lahaina.

>> Gubernatorial poll: A statewide poll released this week by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and KITV-4 shows Linda Lingle's favorable rating has continued to steadily climb, while Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' has slipped.

>> Charter schools: Kamehameha School's bid to partner with the state to open charter schools is under discussion by the Legislature. One bill would allow the trust to partner with the state in educating students from kindergarten through 12th grade as a way to reach more native Hawaiian children.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.

>> Parking stalled: In a move to improve security at the state Capitol, state public safety officials had considered removing public parking spaces in the Capitol's underground garage.

But state lawmakers and Gov. Ben Cayetano warned against such a plan because it goes against Hawaii's reputation of having one of the most open and accessible capitols of any state.

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