Excise-tax bill puts
GOP in a pickle
The possible 0.5 percent excise tax increase to pay for a Honolulu rail system is tormenting Republicans throughout the state.
With only 15 votes among the 76 in the Legislature and just one of the nine Honolulu City Council votes counted as Republican, it may not seem to matter what the GOP thinks.
But Republicans, who campaign as the sworn enemy of any and all tax increases, worry that their own political futures are now stirred into the debate.
Democratic Sen. Colleen Hanabusa chuckles that Republicans may be caught going against a tax bill while their governor either signs it into law or allows it to become law without her signature.
"No matter how you spin it, it will still be the largest tax increase in the history of the state," Hanabusa says, adding opposing taxes "goes to the core of the Republican philosophy."
Recognizing that anti-tax blood oath, Republican Sen. Sam Slom reports a furious lobbying campaign directed at getting Republican Gov. Linda Lingle to veto the measure that allows the counties to raise the excise tax.
"We are lobbying her day after day," Slom says.
The governor, now traveling on a good will mission in China, is slowly coming around, Slom adds.
"She is backing away a little bit on the home rule issue; it is not the kind of home rule she wanted nor the kind of home rule she would have designed," Slom says.
On the record Lingle says she is still studying the tax plan, but Slom says she is telling members of the GOP caucus that she expects legislators to promise that they be willing to make changes to the tax bill during the next session or she won't sign the bill.
"But what happens if they tell you they are going to do it and then they don't do it next year?" Slom worries.
While Lingle is in China, the GOP is at home fretting about a series of other bills considered either tax increases or anti-business.
The bills include measures to raise the conveyance tax on real estate sales of more than $600,000. Soaring real estate prices mean that $600,000 is a price that would add extra taxes on many sales.
Another bill raises the minimum wage in 50-cent increments until it reaches $7.25. But there is nothing to balance the increase against a larger "tip credit" for waiters and others who earn most of their money from tips.
The GOP caucus wants Lingle to veto both bills.
"None of us agree on those bills," says Republican Rep. Barbara Marumoto.
"She has plenty of time to think about it while in China," Marumoto adds.
When Lingle does return she will first have to quiet her own GOP before addressing the larger issue of the tax increases, her record in the face of next year's election and the general public dislike for any tax increase.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com