Blame flies as tax accord sinks
Now-moribund bills would have allowed the city to collect an excise tax surcharge
Gov. Linda Lingle and Mayor Mufi Hannemann exchanged blame yesterday for failing to shepherd bills through the Legislature to have the city collect the 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge for mass transit.
Lingle accused the mayor of breaking his pledge to help to shuttle through the legislation.
"He told the people that he would stand behind the county collecting the tax. He wanted a tax increase, he supported a tax increase. When it comes time to collect it, he wants the state to do his work for him," Lingle said, "and I think that is simply not living up to his word."
But Hannemann said he did everything he promised to do to get legislation through and that it was the governor who was missing in action at the Legislature, failing to lobby personally for the bills' passage.
"I think the question that I would ask of her is, Where was she? I did my part. I kept my word. I keep my commitment," he said.
The law says the state Tax Department, which now collects the state's 4 percent general excise tax, must collect the 0.5 percent excise tax surcharge to fund mass transit projects. The state also would receive 10 percent of the surcharge revenue for administrative costs. Officials would collect an estimated $150 a million a year on Oahu starting Jan. 1.
Last summer, Lingle threatened to veto the legislation that led to that law because she said the county should be collecting its own tax.
But she eventually allowed the bill to become law without her signature after reaching an agreement with legislative leaders and the mayor over trying to get the law changed this legislative session so that the city would collect the tax.
Bills in both the House and Senate that would have done that, however, missed a key deadline this week to cross over to the other side, meaning chances of the measures making it out the Legislature are slim.
Exactly what the governor, Hannemann, Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say promised each other is in dispute.
The governor said Bunda, Say and Hannemann pro-mised to push the legislation through.
"The Senate president and House speaker said that they would also move this issue forward now beyond just introducing it. If they really had something that they felt they weren't going to do, they should've been upfront about it with me and with the public," Lingle said.
But Bunda and Hannemann see it differently.
"We said there were no guarantees," Bunda said yesterday. "We said that we would give it a good-faith effort."
Said Hannemann, "The Senate and House leadership did their part, we did our part. She didn't do anything, so if she's going to point the finger at anyone today, she should be turning that finger and pointing it at herself."
Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi and Lingle senior policy adviser Linda Smith lobbied on the governor's behalf. "Her position was well known, and we had an agreement with leadership as well as the mayor that they would make this change," said Pang.
Bunda said his pledge was to put the bills through the legislative process on his side and made no promises on approvals. Say could not be reached for comment.
The House did not hear the bills, according to the Legislature's Web site.
Hannemann laid out several documents that he said showed that he did what he promised: agree to have the county take over the tax collection and work with the Legislature to introduce the bills.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Brian Taniguchi said there is legislation moving that would provide the state tax director with help if the state should keep the tax collection duties.
"At this point we don't have any bills that would transfer responsibility to the counties that I know, so at this point this would help the (Tax) Department."