Thursday, June 26, 2003


Lingle’s vetoes reflect
her fiscal concerns


The governor cited budget problems as the reason for refusing many legislative measures.

GOVERNOR Lingle's rejection of 50 legislative measures proclaims her intent to steer the state toward her priorities and signals lawmakers that a fiscally temperate climate is in order.

Governor Lingle

The vetoes were aimed primarily at bills the governor said would put the state in a financial hole. Several were ill-advised spending bills, but others may put at risk social service and health-care programs that tend to the needy and disadvantaged.

Lingle said the two-year budget lawmakers passed was not balanced and she objects to using the state's "rainy day" fund for such recurring expenses. The cuts in subsidies appear small, but for the agencies anticipating financial help, the reductions will curtail their programs. Among them are centers that provide youth and adult care, oral-health services for low-income children, sex abuse treatment and domestic violence counseling, as well as funds for rural hospitals.

In sending back the Legislature's education measures, Lingle is clearly showing her resolve to reorganize the Board of Education and public school system rather than just tweaking the status quo by creating regional panels under the present board. The governor also wisely turned down fees for textbooks in public schools as it would further burden parents and would not increase the accountability she feels necessary in the Department of Education's spending practices. Lingle spurned adding a collective bargaining unit for public school substitute teachers, citing conflicting statutes and confusion about which employees the unit would cover.

Another bill dealing with public workers would have reinstated binding arbitration, but the governor said the practice would push unions and management to take extreme positions in negotiations and that third-party settlements were not conducive to good-faith contract talks or public accountability.

As anticipated, Lingle rejected a bill that would have directed hospitals to offer emergency contraceptives to victims of sexual assault. She said that the measure would have forced St. Francis hospital, which is tied to the Catholic Church, to act against its principles. Lawmakers should rewrite the bill to exempt such hospitals and clear Lingle's objection so that women would not have to accept the possibility of pregnancy along with the trauma of rape or incest.

It was disappointing that Lingle, who during her campaign declared strong support for further developing agriculture and for protecting agricultural lands, vetoed bills that would have helped the industry and shielded dwindling acreage from imprudent housing development. While lack of money understandably restricts aid to the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the University of Hawaii's agriculture college for research and marketing of new products, some investment is necessary if diversification of Hawaii's economy is the goal.

Protecting agriculture lands, however, cannot be dismissed as a money issue. Lingle's veto of a bill that would have limited development of acreage classified for agriculture now makes conversion of such lands more attractive for sale for high-priced "gentlemen farms." She says the bill was too restrictive and that she will address the issue next year.

Because Lingle took office only about a month before the start of the legislative session, the new governor -- busy enough with hiring staff and setting up shop -- had little time to put together a package of bills while maneuvering through the obscure intricacies of the legislative process.

Next year, time may not be so short, but revenues will likely continue to be. The governor and the lawmakers will still have a tough row to hoe.



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