STATE OF THE STATE
Key legislators promise to consider Lingle's rebate plan
The state is trying to decide what to do with a $574 million surplus
With everyone at the state Legislature focused on what to do with a projected $574 million state budget surplus, Gov. Linda Lingle outlined her plans for the money that include a one-time rebate for most*
taxpayers, coupled with raising the standard deduction and widening the state's income tax brackets.
Trying to put it in real-life terms, Lingle said the enactment of her $285 million tax plan would return as much as $1,568 to a family of four earning less than $50,000 a year.
The tax plan was the centerpiece of Lingle's State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate.
House Democrats, who on Wednesday's opening day of the 2006 session seemed reluctant to consider Republican-backed tax measures, said yesterday they would be willing to at least hear some of Lingle's tax proposals.
Regarding the one-time rebate proposal, "It's something that I think the Legislature should consider," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley).
"I'm very confident," he added, "that through the public hearing process she'll be given an opportunity of trying to defend her position, and at that public hearing process, you'll see the quality of the legislation improve in its worth to the people of the state of Hawaii."
Senate President Robert Bunda has supported expanding income tax brackets to ease the tax burden on the working poor, but said he would not support any form of refund or rebate at this time.
"I said no tax rebate because it takes a chunk" of the surplus, said Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea).
Bunda called Lingle's tax proposals "aggressive," saying he agreed with Say that lawmakers need to be open and "carefully review what the cost of each reform is."
"I think what the governor did was just put it all on the table for the Legislature to consider," Bunda said. "I don't think she's stuck on one particular measure.
"She did come across very strong on the rebate issue."
Lingle, in her 52-minute speech interrupted 58 times by mostly partisan applause, touched on a wide array of topics ranging from education and disaster preparedness to affordable housing and renewable energy.
Overall, legislative leaders said they felt Lingle struck the right tone of trying to work cooperatively for the benefit of the state.
"I enjoyed it," Say said. "I really enjoyed it because she was really trying to reach out to all of us as Democrats -- let's work together for the greater good of our community. I think we will."
Bunda noted that the speeches given last week by himself and Say largely overlapped with the governor's except in the one major area of taxes, but she did not take an adversarial tone in trying to push her agenda.
"If she wanted to use any of these issues as wedge issues, she could have," he said.
One subject noticeably absent from Lingle's address was any mention of the state's gasoline price cap, although the governor added later that she remains committed to trying to repeal the law.
"It's simply a matter of time and picking and choosing the things you'd like people to focus on," Lingle said afterward. "I don't want them to focus on the gas cap. I want them to focus on the comprehensive energy package that really sets out a policy for the state that takes into account a variety of approaches but all aimed at one thing, and that's to reduce our dependence on imported oil."
House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said he did not read anything into Lingle not mentioning the price cap.
"I think she is like us -- reviewing all the data right now," Oshiro said. "We'll be looking at different options in the area of transparency.
"I was pleased that her remarks did resemble many of our initiatives."
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
» Gov. Linda Lingle has proposed a one-time tax rebate for most taxpayers. A story on Page A1 in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly said the rebate was for all taxpayers. A related story on Page A6 yesterday morning also incorrectly said the rebate was for those making less than $50,000 per year. Lingle also proposed a $100 credit to taxpayers earning $50,000 or less to offset the excise tax on food and drugs. A story on Page A6 in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly said the credit was $150.