Tax measures should assist those in need
Gov. Lingle has proposed directing nearly half of the state's budget surplus to tax relief measures.
EQUIPPED with a record high surplus in tax revenue, Gov. Lingle is calling on the Legislature
to make use of the "chance to literally have it all" -- tax relief along with addressing state needs. She is facing Democratic legislative leaders who define "have it all" as spending the entire surplus on state programs. They are risking a political backlash from taxpayers finding it increasingly difficult to pay their bills.
In her State of the State address to legislators, Lingle called for a $285 million tax-relief package, nearly half of the state's $574 million surplus. She said the giveback is warranted by "families coping with higher housing costs, higher property taxes, higher car registration taxes, higher gasoline prices, higher electricity rates, higher water and sewer bills, higher medical bills and higher food prices."
Legislators will have a hard time denying those realities, making rejection of tax breaks for neediest families deplorable. Lingle suggests that providing more than her proposed $132.5 million increase in school construction, maintenance and repairs would be tantamount to giving the Department of Education "a blank check." Legislators leaders must prove otherwise to justify spending $240 million on school infrastructure, as they propose.
Other than a proposed increase in the standard deduction to 75 percent of the federal level, the governor's tax plan is directed at helping families that have problems making ends meet. It includes her endorsement of Senate President Bunda's proposal to adjust income tax brackets. Together, she said, they would reduce taxes by $86 million and benefit more than 80 percent of taxpayers and their families.
Lingle also proposes $100 tax credits to households with incomes of less than $50,000 "to offset the taxes people pay on food, medical services and nonprescription drugs. I think it's unconscionable that we tax people for eating and getting sick." Are Democrats actually going to quarrel with that compassion?
She also proposes a one-time refund of $150 per exemption for all but the wealthiest families, amounting to a $600 check early next year for a couple with two children. Together with her other proposals, that would amount to a savings of $1,568 for a family of four.
The tax relief still would allow the state to spend funds from the surplus to provide needed help to schools, the University of Hawaii and affordable housing, along with doubling the state's current $55 million rainy day fund.
Democratic leaders have characterized any potential tax refund resulting from the surplus to be insignificant and thus not worth the effort; House Speaker Calvin Say has likened it to the cost of an extra weekly loco moco or plate lunch. Unless the governor's math is disastrously flawed or schools are in greater desperation than she thinks, taxpayers deserve some relief.