[ OUR OPINION ]
Reduced bus service
counters city’s goal
CUTS in service add insult to injury for riders who will see fares go up next month as city officials struggle to deal with a $6 million decrease in the operating budget for TheBus. However, as fare income and other city revenues drop and costs for insurance, labor and fuel rise, something has to give.
Budget shortfalls have forced the city to trim the number of bus runs.
Unfortunately, the changes bump up against the city's aim to get more commuters to leave their cars at home and ease the crush of traffic on Honolulu's streets. Officials will have to reconcile how they can lure more riders while raising fares and lessening convenience. Incentives may be necessary beyond the city's "BONUS!" program through which employers offer discounted bus passes or travel vouchers to their employees who choose TheBus.
From a total of 89 routes, 21 weekday runs saw schedule shifts and the city anticipates that more extensive changes will be made in August. The service cuts -- many for express buses -- mean that riders will have to wait longer for a bus to come along and may find them more crowded when they get on. However, no routes have yet been eliminated, although that is a possibility.
Many of the people who use the bus do not have access to private vehicles to get from one place to another so extreme service cuts could adversely affect them. According to a city survey last year of Central Oahu riders, 60 percent did not have the alternative of using a car to make a particular trip. About 50 percent did so for work-related purposes and riders' annual incomes averaged about $30,000.
There are also a good number of people who take the bus because they prefer mass transportation to the hassles of driving and because of concerns about the environment. Public transportation could reduce air pollution, but recent studies show that exhaust from diesel fuel, which city buses use, may be more harmful than exhaust from gasoline.
There is no question, however, that traffic congestion would be lessened if more people chose the bus. That is the primary reason behind the city's proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, which has drawn objections because private vehicles would have to make room so buses would have exclusive use of some street lanes.
Despite these complaints, Honolulu has few alternatives to mass transit since building more roads is prohibitive on a land-scarce island. While dealing with budget shortfalls as best they can, city officials should not give up on the bus system. Visions of light-rail or other expensive transit programs are fine, but far in the future. TheBus is already rolling and should be kept on track.
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Alter the ‘death tax’
to make it equitable
FAMILY businesses in Hawaii are most affected by estate taxes that have prevented their inheritances from being passed on from generation to generation. The U.S. House has approved a bill that would repeal the tax, but also would create windfalls for the super-wealthy. A compromise would be more appropriate, and may be needed to gain Senate approval.
The House has approved a repeal of the federal estate tax, or death tax, in 2011.
Congress approved gradual increases in the value of assets exempt from the tax two years ago, extending until 2010. At that point the tax will be entirely repealed, but only for one year, to restore it to 2001 levels. The bill approved this week by the House would nullify that sunset provision and make the repeal permanent.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie has joined Republicans in voting for permanent repeal of the estate tax. The super-wealthy use lawyers, accountants and financial planners to exploit loopholes to escape estate taxes, he said, while small businesses are devastated by the taxes. Abercrombie and 50 other Democrats voted with Republicans this week in favor of repealing the tax. "The bottom line here is the survival of family-owned businesses in Hawaii," he said in a news release.
Rep. Ed Case voted against the repeal and in favor of a compromise offered by Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., which would exempt estates with assets valued up to $3 million for an individual and $6 million for a couple. Pomeroy said his bill would exempt 99.65 percent of all estates, including all but 400 farms, from taxation. Abercrombie voted against the Pomeroy compromise, which was rejected by a 239-188 vote.
Family businesses in Hawaii are affected more than mainland families by the taxes because of the islands' high real-estate valuations. In 1997, the most recent year that statistics were available, 2.5 percent of estates in Hawaii were subject to federal estate taxes, compared with 1.9 percent nationwide.
Congress voted to repeal the estate tax in 2000 but was unable to override President Clinton's veto. Case's predecessor, Patsy Mink, voted against the override to send a message to both parties that they must work for a compromise, including the closing of loopholes used by the super-rich. That same message needs to be sent to the Senate, where opponents of the tax lack the votes they need for an outright repeal.