Gov pushes tax ideas
As House and Senate lawmakers begin sorting out where they differ on proposals introduced this session, Gov. Linda Lingle said she is hopeful they will devote more attention to easing the financial burden on state residents.
"I'd like to see more focus on what they're going to do to help people with the cost of living," Lingle said last week.
At the outset of the 2008 session, Lingle outlined proposals that she said would save taxpayers about $102 million in the next two years.
But the tax package appears to have been dropped. Legislators contend that dwindling state tax revenues must address critical needs before more money can go back to taxpayers.
Lingle had asked for families to be allowed a tax credit for adult day care, additional tax relief for children under 18 and an exemption on the first $25,000 in income for people on nongovernmental pensions, among other proposals.
"We thought it was a very targeted package (of bills) that helped those who need it the most," Lingle said. "It was a fair package. It's something that we are able to cover in our financial plan that I haven't heard a lot of discussion about."
Disagreement over tax cuts and adjusting Hawaii's tax structure has been an almost annual occurrence since Lingle took office.
The two branches of government have found more agreement on other topics, Democratic and Republican leaders say. This year, roughly half of her 179 proposals remain alive in some form in one or both chambers of the Legislature.
Sen. Fred Hemmings, Senate Republican leader, calls the session "refreshingly mundane," meaning that few issues have become the partisan firestorms that marked past confrontations between Lingle and the Legislature.
"I think the governor's major issues -- redevelopment of the harbors, Turtle Bay and the OHA settlement -- are still alive," said Hemmings (R, Waimanalo-Kailua). "It appears void of acrimony."
House Speaker Rep. Calvin Say said Lingle's major items are moving and have not been stopped outright.
"The members has been very supportive of having her measures heard, and a lot of them are passing. A great deal of them from her State of the State speech are moving ahead," said Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo).
"For instance, her energy package moved with the inclusion of legislative ideas. Her support for higher education, her budget, the harbor and airports and revenue bonds are all moving," Say said. "I am very pleased with the results."
Former Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Pupukea) agreed.
"A lot of her bills are being heard, and a lot are moving," Bunda said.
On Lingle's signature proposal of this year -- having the state buy the Turtle Bay Resort property -- lawmakers say there might not be enough money to cover the costs, which some have estimated at up to $500 million.
Lingle says it is too early to start discussing figures. The governor held a community meeting last week and plans to convene a working group to "advise me on both how to craft an agreement to get this land into public hands and to protect the jobs of the people already working at Turtle Bay."
She said her office continues to explore all means of potential funding for the purchase, including state money, federal funds and private donations. Lingle plans to meet later this month with the owners of Turtle Bay.
Lingle has not been lobbying for her proposals as she has been in past sessions, when she would occasionally appear in person to testify on bills.
At the beginning of the session, lawmakers were privately concerned that Lingle's bills would face increased difficulty without a boost from her former chief of staff.
Bob Awana resigned last year after he was blackmailed by an Indian national who threatened to reveal an alleged extramarital affair Awana was having with a woman from the Philippines. Awana complained to the FBI, but the ensuring publicity prompted him to resign.
Some Democrats who had supported Lingle's programs were concerned because Awana, a one-time Democrat, was valuable to her lobbying effort.
"I can truthfully say Bob was forthright in his approach to the Senate and House leadership," said Bunda. "We were able to discuss things that if it weren't for Bob, we would not have discussed."
Say said Lingle has been helped by some Cabinet members who faithfully attend committee hearings. He singled out Georgina Kawamura, budget and finance director, and Ted Liu, business and economic development director, as two "who are always up front and at all the hearings."
Lingle's agenda sails forward
These are among the 11 initiatives proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle this session that have passed both the House and Senate. This list excludes emergency appropriations bills, all of which have advanced in both chambers.
» HB 3064/SB 2986: Makes the renewable energy technologies tax credit refundable for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $20,000 or less or taxpayers whose income is exclusively pension or state retirement income.
» HB 3126/SB 3048: Increases the loan ceiling for farm and ranch operations on Hawaiian Home Lands to $200,000 from $50,000.
» HB 3150/SB 3072: Clarifies the different reporting requirements for hazardous substances.
» HB 3151/SB 3073: Allows certain environmental programs of the Department of Health to conduct business electronically and withhold funds to cover the cost of electronic or credit card provider services.