State GOP legislators
divided on transit tax

Some worry it may be
a political liability in
next year's election

Gov. Linda Lingle took her campaign for transit improvements and its accompanying tax increase to the Republican legislative caucus this past week.

She called a meeting with the 20 Republicans in the Legislature.

The results of the meeting Monday afternoon were mixed, with some GOP lawmakers pledging full support, while others worried that the plan might be a political minus in next year's elections.

"Some of us agreed to disagree," said Sen. Sam Slom, who opposes both the transit plan and any tax increase, even if it is the county that is given the choice of imposing it.

But Lingle stressed that she was not calling for a unified vote of support or twisting arms to get support.

"I made it clear that on this issue or any other issue, I never expect them to vote with me simply because I am a Republican," Lingle said in an interview later in the week.

Lingle said the issue needs to be explained and then explored by the Legislature, and she figures that she has already put it on the agenda.

"I think the leadership I try to provide should be a positive for everyone running as a Republican," Lingle said. "I think it should be a real net gain in the upcoming election."

Others, however, fear that a Republican calling for a large, new government program with new taxes will not be popular with voters.

"There is a concern from individual Republicans that they would be hurt in next year's election," said Slom (R, Hawaii Kai).

But Slom added that Lingle told the group of senators and representatives that "oftentimes you have to take an unpopular stance, and you can't look at in terms of Republicans and Democrats."

The plan calls for a $2.6 billion fixed-rail transit system that would be built in increments from Kapolei to downtown. Portions would be built by the city and the federal government and would be partially paid for with a tax increase approved by the city.

First, however, the city has to be given authority by the state to raise a tax, and Lingle is proposing giving the city the power to raise taxes next year.

Lingle reminded the legislators that even as mayor of Maui, she supported calls to allow the counties to control their own financial futures by increasing their taxing powers.

Republicans felt the issue of county control or home rule is important, but the likelihood of a resulting tax increase makes them nervous.

Rep. Mark Moses (R, Makakilo-Kapolei), for instance, represents a district that suffers through a daily one- or two-hour commute to town, but doesn't want a tax increase.

"She (Lingle) knows that many of us don't completely agree with her, and that is fine," Moses said. "It is philosophy that we don't believe in raising taxes, but we believe that the counties should have home rule."

Moses said his constituents "are screaming for transit solutions," adding that he is convinced that a fixed-rail system would probably handle more commuters than any other solution, except for perhaps double-decking all the freeways.

Another lawmaker, Rep. David Pendleton (R, Maunawili-Kaneohe), who represents a district that won't directly benefit from a Leeward rail line, is still a strong supporter.

"It is a no-brainer," he said. "I have to support it."

Recalling that he spent the summer in the Philippines and Japan, Pendleton said Oahu has two choices.

"We saw what one country said, that 'What we have already is good enough,' and then with Japan, we saw a country that planned for the future (with transit)," Pendleton said.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --