Legislature 2002

Isle GOP says
House’s work
is unfinished

Republicans complain that nothing
is being done for the economy

By Pat Omandam

The 19 Republicans in the state House are calling this year's session of the state Legislature a failure when it comes to stimulating the economy.

At a news conference yesterday, they complained the ruling Democrats have done nothing to move the economy forward.

The Legislature begins its final three-week leg of the session today, with both chambers poised to agree on a few bills while sending the rest to be smoothed over in House-Senate conference committees over the next few weeks.

House Minority Floor Leader Charles Djou (R, Kaneohe) said what the public will get when the session ends on May 2 are "crumbs and scraps."

He described it as a piecemeal approach to the economy that includes a few tax credits, increased taxes and fees but nothing to jump-start economic growth.

House Republicans believe greater tax cuts are needed for job growth, and have repeatedly proposed eliminating the excise tax on food and medical services. Democrats have argued those proposals will not work and will just cost the state in lost tax revenue.

"We just want to express our extreme disappointment that so little has been done to do what has to be done, and that is to stimulate the economy," said Galen Fox (R, Waikiki), House minority leader.

"It seems that the one bright idea coming out of this legislative session is to raid the Hurricane Relief Fund. It just comes out to about that," Fox said.

But while Republicans lament the use of the hurricane fund, the state's top Democrat, Gov. Ben Cayetano, complained it is the politics over its use that has caused problems for legislators.

In his proposed budget, the governor wants to use all of the $213 million in the fund to help balance the budget. But since legislators are hesitant to use more than half of the fund because of the publicity over it, the rest of the money must come from elsewhere, including about $100 million from what has been deemed as excess money in various state special funds.

Cayetano said the plan to raid these special funds -- which are earmarked to pay for specific programs -- is causing a "great deal of pain" in the community. He agrees money from some special funds should be used but not from all of them, such as the fund to build state affordable rental housing.

Cayetano is away on a personal trip and will return to work on Friday, according to the Governor's Office.

"I'm very concerned about it," he said Thursday. "I think a lot of people are getting hurt, and it doesn't have to be that way. And the economy is coming back. We really need to do this just to tie us over."

Republicans believe Hawaii voters will have long memories of this session when this fall's critical general elections arrive. Nearly all seats for state and county elected offices are up for grabs, especially a governor's race that Cayetano called "a tossup."

"They (Democrats) just seem to be doing exactly opposite of what our constituents tell us they want. It looks like the government vs. the people rather the government supporting the people," said Mindy Jaffe (R, Diamond Head). "It will play out OK for us, I think, in November."

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