Legislature awaits
Lingle’s reply

Democrats wait to see whether
the governor vetoes the budget
or any other money bills

The Legislature's Democratic majority plans to wrap up this year's session on May 6, secure that their major accomplishments are already in the bag.

Leaders point to a trio of bills they hope will win voters in the fall: education reform, drug abuse prevention and low-price prescription drugs.

Legislative business

Here are some of the major issues under discussion or already approved at the Legislature:

Education reform: Public schools would see more money sent directly to schools starting in 2006. School principals would be given "performance-based" contracts, and funding to lower class size and buy more textbooks would be increased.

Drug programs: Social service and community groups would have an increased ability to deal with drug abuse. Drug-abuse prevention school programs are increased, and more money is given for state drug courts.

Graduated driver's licenses: Teenage drivers go through a three-stage process before winning a full license. The bill is up for discussion this week.

Hawaii Rx: A plan to provide access to prescription drug care for as many as 300,000 Hawaii residents who lack insurance coverage to pay for their medications won the support of Gov. Lingle and is likely to be signed into law.

The general parameters of all three had been worked out last summer and in the early weeks of the session, so the objections came not from Democrats, but from minority Republicans.

Both GOP lawmakers and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle were critical of the education reform measures, which passed after Democrats rejected Lingle's call for a constitutional amendment to break the statewide school board into seven boards.

Democrats, however, passed a bill to funnel 70 percent of school money into school operations starting in 2006.

"We think it is deceptive. We think the system is broken, and we think it is just throwing money at the problem," Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo-Lanikai) said about the Democrats' education bill.

However, Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Pupukea) is already tallying up the accomplishments.

The second circle of legislation, with controversial issues such as campaign spending reform and lingering questions about the state's $3.6 billion general-fund operating budget, remains to be worked on this week.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) expects to take up two different versions of campaign spending by Wednesday.

One bill, favored by citizen reform groups, would permit public funds to pay for state House races for candidates who decline private contributions. The other bill, favored by Bob Watada, Campaign Spending Commission executive director, would put stricter limits on who can donate to candidates, including banning corporate contributions.

The Legislature has until Thursday to reach agreement on all bills that do not contain an appropriation.

Money bills must be reported out of committee and agreed to by Friday. Legislators will then have until May 6 to vote on them.

But first, Democrats are waiting for word from Lingle regarding the budget and several other money bills she is considering for vetoes.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), Ways and Means Committee chairman, expects Lingle will attempt to reduce the Legislature's version of the budget, which passed April 15.

Lingle has until Friday to notify the Legislature if she intends to veto all or portions of the budget.

House and Senate Democrats say they have the votes needed to override a Lingle budget veto. Last year, lawmakers were faced with Lingle's rejection of their raid on the state's emergency contingency, or rainy day, fund to pay for extra social service programs, and were easily able to override the veto.

Lingle is warning that because the budget approved by legislators includes an average 8 percent raise for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, it will cost the state too much.

By adding the pay raises won by HGEA and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and adding in projected raises for teachers and blue-collar workers, Lingle says the state will run a deficit starting next year.

Republican Hemmings called the HGEA raise "excessive," noting that the 23,000-member union had already won raises of 25 percent in the past five years.

"They have the most incredible fringe benefit system in the country, and while we think the HGEA does a good job, we think they also get a good salary," Hemmings said.

On Friday state Budget Director Georgina Kawamura called the Legislature's budget "a significant step backwards in our attempt to achieve and maintain a sound financial plan."

But Taniguchi countered that the Lingle administration had already added $120 million to last year's budget.

"She (Lingle) talks about fiscal discipline but adds $120 million. I think there are some contradictions there; she says we have room for what she wants and we don't have room for what the Legislature wants. To me that's a discrepancy," Taniguchi said.

Bunda, a 20-year Legislature veteran, said Democrats have been unable to negotiate with Lingle.

"It is difficult to move on some legislation without having the governor's input," Bunda says. "We get the feeling that it is 'my way or the highway' with her."


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