Tuesday, March 10, 1998

Legislature '98

Coalition opposes bill
to streamline
land use

Letting counties control use puts
the economy over public input
and the land, they say

By Keith Kosaki

Elimination of the state Land Use Commission, a key recommendation of Gov. Ben Cayetano's Economic Revitalization Task Force, has drawn fire from a coalition of environmental and native Hawaiian groups.

The proposal was one of nine bills advancing in the Legislature that came under attack yesterday from groups such as the Sierra Club, Hawaii Audubon Society and Ahupua'a Action Alliance.

Scrapping the commission would mean transferring jurisdiction of 800,000 acres of land from the state to the counties. The revitalization task force wanted to streamline the regulatory process and attract businesses.

But members of the coalition insist that it will reduce public participation in the land-use process and lawmakers shouldn't cut back on environmental regulations for economic gain.

"We need our environment to attract business and visitors alike," said Maile Bay, legislative analyst for the Hawaii Audubon Society.

David Kimo Frankel, executive director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said he fears loopholes in land-use laws and limited public participation would result if the commission were abolished. Frankel also opposes a Senate measure which renames and redefines the commission's duties.

Bill Sager, director of the Citizen Action Project, said counties allow the public only three minutes of testimony, while the commission allows a complete presentation before it makes decisions.

"It reduces the amount of citizens'input and takes a whole layer of checks and balances from the system," Sager said.

But House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Wailuku) called the proposal a "fair plan" which tries to balance both sides.

"There's a lot of duplication between the state and the counties, and this bill will reduce that, and there are safeguards in this bill," Souki said.

Other measures questioned by the coalition included the Waiahole Ditch purchase and the elimination of the Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Even Marilyn Bornhorst, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, which has a solid majority in both legislative chambers, was critical of some bills. She hasn't discussed them with Democratic lawmakers, but said the attitude of economic gain over the environment has to change.

"I've heard that for the last 30 years," Bornhorst said. "I hope they will recognize you can't do any more damage to the environment and survive."

Frankel said the Sierra Club supports environment-friendly economic development proposals, such as recycling, diversified agriculture and "eco-tourism" bills.

Environmental hit list

Here are bills opposed by environmental and native Hawaiian groups:

Abolishing Land Use Commission (SB 2063 and HB 2558): Proposes eliminating the commission and transferring its jurisdiction to the counties. Concern: Move would limit public input.

State Water Code (HB 1332): Would let the Agriculture Department modify water-use development plans to maintain availability for agricultural use. Concern: Creates water rights regardless of whether uses are necessary, efficient or in the public interest.

Waiahole Ditch purchase (HB 2990): Would authorize general obligation bonds to purchase the ditch for $10.2 million from Amfac/JMB. Concern: Oppose use of state funds for such a purpose, given the state's budget woes.

Permit approval (HB 2557): Sets specific time frame for review and approval of all state or business-related permits. Concern: Permits may be granted, even if project is public-health risk, if agency fails to meet deadline for acting.

Small-business regulatory flexibility (HB 2792 and SB 2803): Gives small businesses more input in regulatory process. Concern: Makes adopting rules that protect resources more difficult.

Elimination of Office of Environmental Quality Control (HB 3531, HD2): Transfers functions of the environmental office to Office of Planning in the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Concern: Reduces long-term environmental oversight and coordination of environmental projects.

Department of Land and Natural Resources budget cuts (HB 2500): Reduces funding for alien species control, historic preservation and hiking trails. Concern: Long-term damage to tourism and watershed areas.

House vote to be close
on excise tax hike

By Craig Gima

It's expected to be a close vote when the state House takes up the package to raise the general excise tax to 4.5 percent and lower personal income taxes between 20 percent and 35 percent.

"The spread is two or three votes," said House Speaker Joe Souki.

But Souki (D, Wailuku) was confident the measure will pass the House today.

"It could change. As of this moment I expect it to get through," he said outside a conference room, where House Democrats met all day yesterday.

The House is scheduled to vote on about 300 bills today as an internal legislative deadline for bills to cross over to the Senate approaches.

The tax package was expected to draw the most debate.

During a procedural vote Friday, the debate lasted for more than an hour before it was cut off. Republicans and seven Democrats opposed the general excise tax increase.

Republicans were expected to propose a amendment on the House floor today to eliminate the general excise tax increase.

House minority leader Quentin Kawananakoa said the House should just pass the personal income tax cut and pay for it by eliminating 2,500 to 3,000 state jobs through layoffs and not filling vacant positions.

"We believe that, as the Senate has seen, the best way for us to do that is by reducing government and not by increasing the general excise tax," Kawananakoa (R, Nuuanu) said.

The Senate is proposing to cut income taxes by 25 percent to 40 percent without raising the general excise tax.

The Senate package also includes a pay cut for all state workers. Senators will vote on some 350 bills today and Democrats in that chamber also met all day in a closed caucus to discuss the bills.

Ways and Means Co-chairwoman Rosalyn Baker (D, Lahaina) said there was no controversy when Senate Democrats discussed the pay cut proposal.

Souki described the Senate proposal as very soft.

"There is a lot of hardening to do in the plan, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt," he said.

Ways and Means Co-chairwoman Carol Fukunaga (D, Makiki) had no comment on Souki's statement.

"We have to continue to work together," she said.

Souki believes the Senate and the House are close to agreement on many issues.

He noted that the Senate and House differ by only 5 percent on the personal income tax cut.

Human Services Director Susan Chandler, in an effort to get the tax package passed, sent a memo to all members of the House yesterday.

In her memo, she urged members to vote yes on the tax package because she said the governor's proposed low income tax credit will more than offset the general excise tax increase and will give the poor more money to spend.

Rep. David Morihara (D, Wailuku) said he has not decided how he will vote.

He said calls to his office are split on the tax package and House Democratic leaders are urging him to vote yes to keep the measure alive.

That's the reason Rep. Robert Herkes (D, Kau) said he will vote yes. "I obviously don't want to see an increase in taxes, but I'm willing to wait and see how it comes out in the end and look at the entire impact," Herkes said.

Morihara noted the tougher vote will be at the end of session if the general excise tax proposal survives.

Legislature '98

Capitol Calendar

A calendar of tomorrow's hearings - to be held at the state Capitol, 415 S. Beretania St., unless noted:


None scheduled.


None scheduled.

Senate Human Resources and Water and Land Use/House Human Resources and Consumer Protection committees. Meeting on bill relating to family child care homes. Decision-making only, no public testimony, 9 a.m., Room 329.

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