Saturday, July 9, 2005

Lingle firm on
transit tax veto

Legislators maintain that timing
prevents meeting her demands

» Hurricane preparedness among vetoes

Hopes for a solution to Oahu's traffic woes were fading yesterday after Gov. Linda Lingle vowed she would veto the bill that would raise taxes to pay for a mass transit project.

The governor wants the bill amended to address her concerns, and she said the Legislature can make those changes at a special session Tuesday that lawmakers are expected to call to override several of her vetoes.

If legislators do not pledge to make those changes, she will veto the bill Monday or early Tuesday, she said.

"I have taken a very consistent position that if they have a special session, they should make the correction now," Lingle said.

But lawmakers say they have their own concerns, including whether a veto would be legal and whether they would have agreement to handle the transit tax again in a short, three- or five-day session next week.

At issue is House Bill 1309, which would give the counties the power to raise the state general excise tax to 4.5 percent from 4 percent, with the money going toward mass transit projects. The bill says the state will collect the tax and give it to the counties after taking 10 percent for administrative expenses. Lingle says she wants the counties to be responsible for the whole thing.

Lingle's announced intention to veto the bill came yesterday afternoon after morning events indicated that the Republican governor, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Democratic legislative leaders had reached a compromise.

Hannemann said it would be expensive and duplicate the state process for the city to collect the tax. But after meeting with Lingle and tax officials Thursday evening, Hannemann announced yesterday that he was willing to compromise.

"To move this forward, I am willing to compromise, and I am addressing everyone's concerns to make it happen.

"I really believe this is our last chance. If we don't make it happen this year, it ain't going to happen in our lifetime, and traffic is going to get worse," Hannemann said.

Later in the day, Hannemann was traveling to Japan, but his spokesman, Bill Brennan, responded to Lingle's planned veto by saying, "We are disappointed that she continues to go down this path."

Also yesterday, House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda released a letter they had sent to Lingle urging her to sign the transit tax bill and pledging to work on her concerns in 2006.

"We pledge to encourage our members to seriously and fully consider your concerns and to address them in the next legislative session," the letter read.

Lingle said none of that was good enough.

"Our position has been consistent ... very reasonable and logical. I don't know why they wouldn't just make the change," Lingle said.

Legislators, however, said the issue is further complicated because Lingle's official notice to the Legislature that she was considering vetoing the transit bill, HB 1309, was flawed by typographical errors.

Although state Attorney General Mark Bennett said yesterday that the typos did not change the intent of the notice, lawmakers insist the veto notification is flawed and that the bill will automatically become law on Tuesday, the veto deadline.

"She created the problem, and there is now a legal cloud surrounding this bill. This has put the future of transit solutions for Honolulu in great jeopardy," said Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise).

He asked that Lingle not veto the bill.

Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) agreed, saying he thought the bill was on its way to automatically becoming law.

"We offered her a compromise and will try to amend the bill, but now she is rejecting our response. I just don't understand it," Bunda said.

City Councilman Charles Djou, an opponent of the transit tax, said the dispute "doesn't instill confidence" in government.

It will only get worse, he added, if lawmakers seek a resolution in the courts.

"I think it's very disappointing that an un-elected judge is going to be making a decision in this case," said Djou, whose district stretches from Waikiki to Hawaii Kai. "This is a decision that we really should have left to the executive and legislative branches of our government."

Meanwhile, City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz said he is more concerned about how the news will affect commuters and others who have long called for an alternative to driving or taking the city bus.

"Over the weekend a lot of people are going to try to figure out what's going to be the next step and what needs to be done," said Dela Cruz, a proponent of the transit tax. "People will probably have to regroup."

Honolulu mass transit proponents say state and county officials must agree to a dedicated source of state funding, or they will lose the chance to obtain the federal money needed for a major project.

Star-Bulletin reporters Mary Vorsino and B.J. Reyes
contributed to this report.


among vetoes

A proposal to use as much as $8 million from the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund for various disaster mitigation efforts was among seven bills vetoed yesterday by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Other rejected proposals included one requiring stores to post prominent signs telling shoppers whether baked goods were previously frozen and then thawed, and a measure allowing first-time drug offenders to apply to have their record wiped clean if they complete certain requirements.

Lingle's veto messages were sent to the Legislature yesterday.

Her deadline to veto any legislation is Tuesday. Last week, as required by law, she sent notification to lawmakers of the measures she was considering for veto.

Majority Democrats in the Legislature, who have the votes to override any veto, are expected to come back in special session next week to override several.

Bills vetoed yesterday include Senate Bill 960, known as the Disaster Emergency Preparedness Act of 2005.

The proposal set aside $4 million from the hurricane fund for disaster preparedness measures such as updating flood-zone maps, upgrading alarm sirens, constructing and improving shelters, and developing residential safe-room design standards.

It also authorized the transfer of $4 million from the hurricane fund to another special fund that would be used for grants to homeowners who upgrade their homes to better prepare for a natural disaster such as a hurricane.

Lingle, who has opposed raids of special funds in the past, said she found the projects worthwhile but disagreed with the source of funding.

"The Hurricane Reserve Trust Fund principal should be retained in the fund, because these moneys will be needed to pay claims and purchase reinsurance following a hurricane," Lingle said in her veto message.

The roughly $191 million hurricane relief fund, which is no longer taking in money nor issuing insurance, was established as a way to provide coverage for homeowners after insurers stopped issuing policies in Hawaii after the devastation caused by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Jerry Peters, a member of the Hawaii Lumber Products Association who helped shepherd the proposal through the Legislature this year, said he hoped for a veto override.

"It seems strange to ... characterize it as a raid on the hurricane fund, which unfortunately seems to politicize the issue," he said. "The bill is wide-reaching and is as necessary for the public safety as any bill that has come down since Hurricane Iniki."

House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro said he believed there was enough support to override the veto. "I think anything we can do to shore up our emergency preparedness system should be done," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho).

Another vetoed proposal, House Bill 332, would have required stores to post signs so consumers know whether baked goods from the mainland have been previously flash-frozen and then thawed before being sold in Hawaii.

Supporters say the freshness of mainland bread is a quality issue that should be disclosed to consumers.

Lingle argued there is no health risk from flash-freezing and that the signage requirements would place an undue burden on the Department of Health, which would be in charge of enforcing the new law.

The governor also vetoed Senate Bill 1796, which allows first-time, nonviolent drug possession offenders sentenced before July 1, 2002, to apply for resentencing and expungement of their arrest and conviction if they have a satisfactory record of treatment and abstinence and no additional criminal convictions.

Lingle said the proposal could have unintended consequences, undermining a 2002 law aimed at steering first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of jail.

Rejected bills

Some other bills vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday included:

House Bill 160: Provides a formula for assessments paid by each line of insurance regulated under the Insurance Code, and provides that insurers are to be given 60 days' notice of when assessments are due. Requires a financial and management audit of the insurance regulation sub-account of the Compliance Resolution Fund.

HB 1224: Establishes procedures, requirements, standards and guidelines for compliance with the streamlined sales and use tax agreement.

Senate Bill 813: Appropriates $20 million in federal Reed Act funds during the next two fiscal years for services of the unemployment insurance and work-force development divisions.

SB 1685: Allows the state to share taxpayer information with counties.

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