[ OUR OPINION ]
Bill to increase excise
tax on the ropes -- for now
SENATE Democrats appear to have regained their senses in setting aside their plan to increase the state's general excise tax, but as always in matters of the Legislature, even the death of a tax bill is uncertain.
The Senate gives up its efforts to raise the tax after the House declines consideration.
It would not be surprising if the measure is revived as the House and Senate wheel and deal in the final days of the session. Opponents of the measure would do well to keep the heat turned up.
The House leadership had been vocal about its aversion to the increase. This week, Speaker Calvin Say effectively pulled the plug on the bill's passage when he refused to appoint anyone to a House-Senate conference committee that would have taken up that measure as well as legislation on a county sales tax and a rise in the auto registration fee.
Governor Lingle, business groups and taxpayers also opposed the bill that would have raised the 4 percent excise tax by a half-percent to amass $120 million ostensibly to fund public education. However, less than half of the $108 million pegged for education was identified distinctly for school expenses. Meanwhile, a $100 rebate that was supposed to offset the effects of the increase on all taxpayers began shrinking and became limited to low-income residents.
In withdrawing the bill, Senate President Robert Bunda argued that without the extra money, education will suffer. However, that rings hollow in view of the Senate's lukewarm efforts to reform school operations and education spending to make better use of available tax dollars. In addition, Sen. Donna Kim's complaint that House tactics impede the legislative process seems spurious since lawmakers themselves set -- and change -- their rules to suit their purposes, and Kim cannot deny that she has applied such tactics herself.
Say's procedural move does not preclude a change of mind, and dead bills often find new life through the innumerable maneuvers lawmakers employ. Wrangling and bargaining will no doubt continue until the last light is turned off at the state Capitol. Stay tuned.
BACK TO TOP
U.S.-N. Korea talks
provide slim hope
AFTER a six-month stalemate, North Korea and the United States have agreed to open negotiations, with China's participation. Terms of an agreement requiring Pyong-yang to abandon its nuclear weapons program and permit inspectors to verify the dismantlement will be difficult to achieve. If accomplished, humanitarian aid can resume and efforts can be made to address the horrid human-rights violations that are occurring under the regime of Kim Jong Il.
North Korea and the United States have agreed to begin talks regarding the North's nuclear weapons production.
China deserves credit for the opening of the three-way talks, which is itself a promising development. Beijing has long avoided taking an active role in dealing with what some regard as a nuclear crisis on the peninsula, but engineered the negotiations, which could begin as early as next week. The swift U.S. military victory in Iraq also may have caused Kim to fear a strike at his corner of what President Bush has called the "axis of evil."
North Korea had demanded direct negotiations with the United States. Bush had insisted that no talks could begin until the dismantlement of facilities had begun and that Japan and South Korea be included at the table. An administration official said the United States hopes to expand the talks to include those two countries in later rounds. Kim is likely to want the talks to evolve into bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea.
A quick solution is not in the cards. The United States is not about to back down from its demand for dismantlement of the North's enriched uranium and plutonium-based programs, nor should it, and Kim cannot be expected to agree to verification. China could play an important role in persuading Kim. Beijing supplies much of North Korea's food and cut off oil to its neighbor for three days last month as a gesture of displeasure with Kim's policies.
In the long run, international pressure is needed to loosen Kim's vise-like grip on his impoverished nation. As the agreement for diplomacy was reached, the U.N. Human Rights Commission overwhelmingly approved a resolution deploring Pyongyang's human-rights violations, including torture, public executions, using the death penalty for political purposes, holding people in prison camps, the extensive use of forced labor and general lack of respect for personal liberty.