Farmers get fooled
by Council’s tax bill


The City Council overrides mayor's veto of a bill on tax assessments of agricultural land.

FARMERS and members of the public can be forgiven if they are confused about the value of a measure the City Council put into place this week with a 7-2 override of a veto by Mayor Harris. With the deadline for farmers to seek lower tax assessments under Bill 35 lapsing two days before the Council's action and given the mayor's vow not to execute the measure determined to be illegal, it appears the episode was mere political theatrics.

That the Council has no intention of forcing Harris to comply is further evidence that the dramatics and breast-beating on the bill were ramped up simply to position members to be seen as champions of those who work the land.

The seven members and their political allies who exploited the emotions and fears of farmers should be ashamed. Council members Barbara Marshall and Gary Okino, who voted against the override, should be commended for not taking part in the ruse.

Bill 35 was supposed to give farmers a way to lower their tax assessments when there was no need since laws already on the books provide for reconsideration. In fact, the city had already been approving requests from hundreds of farmers without the useless bill.

However, Bill 35 had become a contentious point between two mayoral candidates, Duke Bainum, who while on the Council had authored a law that changed the way agricultural land is taxed, and Mufi Hannemann, who seized the issue as a weapon to batter his opponent.

As politicians are wont to do, Hannemann and his Council confederates portrayed the conflict in simplistic terms. Those against Bill 35 were hurting farmers and the agriculture industry; those who favored it were fighting for the little guys. The issue is far more complex but was couched that way for political gain. In the process, some farmers, as was clear in their testimony, were led to believe their only recourse for lower assessments was Bill 35.

The city is still offering farmers an opportunity for compromise on their tax bills. If those who put false hope in Bill 35 now face a more arduous process, they have the seven Council members and their cohorts to blame.

Although the intent of the law that changed valuation of agricultural land was to assure that the lower assessments were going to actual farmers -- not those who had banked their land for later development and those who masqueraded as farmers by grazing a horse on their property -- it needs adjustment to help farmers who, because of uncertain leases, don't qualify for the lower rates.

Bill 35 does nothing to assist them. All it did was permit politicians to use farmers as pawns in a deplorable exercise of cynicism and deception.


Intel director needs
power to be effective


Congress has begun to hear testimony about overhauling the government's intelligence system.

PRESIDENT Bush has endorsed the 9/11 commission's main recommendations for creation of a national intelligence director and a counterterrorism center but with far less authority than envisioned by the panel. He has said he is open to change, and Congress should act with caution in assuring that the new director and center can effectively provide the intelligence needed for the nation's security.

The commission recommended that the intelligence director be a Cabinet-level White House official with authority over the budgets and personnel for the 15 intelligence agencies spread across the federal government. It likened those agencies to "a set of specialists in a hospital, each ordering tests, looking for symptoms and prescribing medications. What is missing is the attending physician who makes sure they work as a team."

Like the doctor, the intelligence director must be in charge. Bush's suggestion that the director reside outside the White House without full authority over the estimated $40 billion annual intelligence budget -- 80 percent of it in the Pentagon -- departs seriously from the commission's recommendation. Under the Bush plan, the director would lack the freedom to develop independent spending requests, which would remain with the various agencies.

Bush's proposal received harsh criticism by members of the commission and of Congress from both parties. "If you don't have the authority to pick the people, isn't a national director just a shell game and a shell operation?" asked Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"To carry this out, the national intelligence director has to have hiring and firing power," said John Lehman, a Republican member of the commission. "He has to have not just budget coordination power, but budget and appropriations and reprogramming power."

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, endorsed the commission's recommendations in their entirety when its report was fresh off the press, and called for its swift approval by Congress. However, the nation's intelligence has improved considerably since the Terrorist Threat Integration Center was created soon after the 2001 attacks.

Bush has indicated that he might be willing to negotiate a reorganization of the intelligence agencies. Hasty adoption of the commission's plan could be disruptive, but hearings should be conducted so a plan can be implemented by the end of this year.




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