Surplus drives Lingle’s agenda
The governor readies a speech laying out her hopes for schools, energy and tax relief
Gov. Linda Lingle goes before state lawmakers and the public today for what is expected to be an upbeat State of the State speech, laying out her hopes to meet a variety of challenges while returning part of the growing state surplus to taxpayers.
She is expected to back up calls she has already made for repairing schools, making the state less dependent on imported oil, protecting Hawaii's fragile environment in the face of rapid growth, and improving health care while fighting illegal drugs and other crime.
The early debate has all come down to how much goes where, with Lingle and Democrats sharing several goals.
Lingle has said she expects her tax-cutting proposals will add up to about half of the state's projected $570 million budget surplus by the start of fiscal year 2007 on July 1.
The taxes topic seems destined to spark a fight this session.
While both House and Senate minority Republicans and Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) have voiced support for state tax cuts and tax reform this year, no similar package has come yet from majority Democrats in the House.
Democrats have come out in favor of spending most of the state's surplus on public projects, and in particular dedicating more money than Lingle proposes for fixing the state's deteriorating public school buildings.
However, as Hawaii fuel prices continue to lead the nation, there has been an unusual amount of consensus on the topic of making Hawaii more energy self-sufficient.
Lingle's proposed 140-page bill on the topic incorporates a wide range of initiatives from making it easier for wind farms to get permits to mandating that utilities be fueled 20 percent by alternative fuels by 2020.
The bill would also establish a $10 million fund to support hydrogen energy projects. Lingle will also be asking the Public Utilities Commission to limit or eliminate utilities' ability to pass higher fuel costs on to customers and to encourage the companies to find other ways to be efficient.
Late last week, Lingle said she was still putting the finishing touches on her speech before a joint session of the Legislature, fact checking and trying to make sure the speech will not run too long.
Much of it is expected to cover territory already presented in proposals for 2006 that were announced in the run-up to the start of the session last Wednesday.
But Lingle suggested there might be a few new measures not included in previous announcements of her legislative agenda.
"I hope you think there will be one or two surprises within each category," Lingle told reporters gathered in her offices Friday.