Legislature sings the old standards
BOWING to tradition, Hawaii lawmakers ended the legislative session Thursday by singing "Hawaii Aloha," but they would have been better off channeling Don Ho and Kui Lee and signing off with "I'll Remember You."
Recalling what it did in past sessions is what the Legislature did best this year.
Instead of marking new ground or coming up with new ideas, this session was a time to redo.
The most obvious "same old, same old" proposal was one to do away with the state Supreme Court decision regarding management rights. Three years in a row, the Legislature wrote bills to allow public employees to bargain in their contracts before they could be moved from one job site to another, and three times Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it. This year, the redo held as the Legislature overrode Lingle's veto.
An even older piece of handiwork was the $25 million appropriated this year -- to be matched with another $25 million next year -- to purchase a portion of the low- and moderate-income Kukui Gardens housing project. The project was built 30 years ago and has been a fine public service since then. The Legislature's action will save those houses, but $50 million later there will be no new low-cost homes.
This year the Legislature brought Hawaii health insurance firms under the control of the state insurance commissioner. Last year the Legislature bowed to the pressure of health insurance lobbyists and took the companies out of the insurance commissioner's purview. This year they stood up and restarted the rate regulation.
Lawmakers this year must have dislocated a few shoulders as they patted themselves on the back for giving low- and moderate-income taxpayers a break with a graduated scale of tax credits. The progressive tax cuts will help larger families because the credits are linked to tax exemptions -- the more exemptions you have, the more money you get back. It is a good idea and answers critics who say the excise tax should not apply to food and medical services.
This new tax cut is similar to the one the Legislature had in place 20 years ago and removed when the economy tanked in 1998.
Finally, there is the 10-cent-a-gallon reduction in taxes on the sale of gasoline. Remember last year when Lingle asked for the tax exemption on ethanol-blended gasoline to be extended? The Legislature refused. But it agreed when gas prices shot up 11 cents a gallon in January, and did this year what it refused last year.
In sum, this year's Legislature might not have discovered a new tune, but it has the makings of a great cover band.