Voters will not condone
general excise tax hike


Some Democrats in the Legislature are considering raising taxes to help pay for basic budget items such as education and prisons.

GOVERNOR Lingle could not have wished for a more politically beneficial response than she received from Democrats to her proposal that county taxes be increased to pay for mass transit. Instead of assailing her much as Democrats successfully went after President Bush the elder for reneging on his "read my lips" pledge, some Democrats in the Legislature are taking her proposal as an invitation to propose raising other taxes to pay for mundane items. Voters will be rightly outraged by such a move.

Republicans in the Legislature and many voters who supported Lingle were hot under the collar when she proposed that counties be allowed to raise their general excise tax from 4 percent to 5 percent so Honolulu can build a light-rail transit system from downtown to Kapolei. Other counties could raise their taxes to pay for their own public transportation systems, if they wish, according to the proposal.

Senate GOP leader Fred Hemmings and Rep. Galen Fox, the party's House leader, both were disgruntled when Lingle made the proposal late last month. Republican Sen. Sam Slom said he was "disappointed that the governor is going to abridge her most vaunted no-tax pledge." (Actually, it was not highly vaunted; no such pledge is mentioned in Lingle's campaign primer, "A New Beginning.")

Democrats in the Legislature initially were lukewarm to the proposal, but now they talk about raising taxes to fatten the state budget. "If you are going to pass a tax for rail, but at the same time you don't take care of the basic needs of the state, you are being kind of hypocritical," says Rep. Joe Souki of Maui. Senate Majority Leader Colleen Hanabusa says she is open to the idea of raising taxes to help pay for education, drug treatment, prisons and the homeless.

Voters expect the state to pay for those "basic needs" without raising taxes in Hawaii, already recognized as "tax hell." Construction of a $2.6 billion rail transit system is different: It is a one-time investment, although it may take many years to complete and could lead to additions. Much of the cost is expected to be borne by the federal government, but a temporary increase in the general excise tax is warranted to pay the state's share.

Across the country, states coping with the worst fiscal crisis in decades have turned to ways other that tax increases to balance their budgets. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 43 of the 49 states required to have balanced budgets have turned to their reserves, specific fee increases and cost-cutting measures.

As Alabama Gov. Bob Riley found in September when voters overwhelmingly rejected his $1.2 billion tax increase proposal, people want smaller government, not higher taxes. Massive spending cuts will be required in Alabama, which can withstand budget reductions less than any other state.



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