Mayor to push
transit tax

Hannemann cuts a trip to Japan
short after hearing of Lingle's
intention to veto the tax bill

Mayor Mufi Hannemann is returning to Oahu today to talk to state lawmakers and the governor about keeping the transit tax alive.

City & County of Honolulu "I am cutting my trip short and heading home to continue to try to salvage this," said Hannemann, who arrived in Japan on Friday afternoon on a trip to encourage travel to Honolulu for the city's centennial.

In a written statement from Tokyo, Hannemann said he is "very disappointed" with the prospect that House Bill 1309, the bill that would allow the county to raise the excise tax to pay for mass transit, might not become law.

"The existing state highway system is already at or near its limits," Hannemann said. "If a resolution is not found to enact House Bill 1309, we will have lost the chance to develop mass transit on Oahu in our lifetime."

After Hannemann left for Japan, Lingle issued a statement Friday that she would veto the bill.

"I am especially disappointed because Governor Lingle's staff and mine held a very promising meeting on Friday to find a way for the city to collect the transit excise tax, as the governor wants," Hannemann said.

The bill as written would have the state collect any general excise tax beyond the state-levied 4 percent, then give a county its portion, minus a 10 percent administration fee.

The Honolulu City Council has voted two of the required three times to raise the excise tax to 4.5 percent, should the Legislature pass the enabling law.

Hannemann had said until meeting with Lingle on Thursday it didn't make sense for the city to set up a new tax collection system when the state has one in place. He estimated setting up such a system could cost the city $50 million.

However, after city and state tax staffs met Friday, it appears that the county could do the job for less than that amount, city spokesman Bill Brennan said yesterday.

Lingle insisted yesterday that her intent to veto the bill doesn't mean she's killing off mass transit funding for Oahu.

"The legislature has the last word on that -- on the tax option and the last word on a traffic solution for Oahu, the final word," Lingle said.

"I have to veto the bill," Lingle said, because it doesn't require the county to collect the tax. She promised that she'll support the bill if the Legislature amends it so the county collects the tax.

"I do want it to go into effect," Lingle said.

But Brennan said Lingle has moved her stance from "getting something in writing (from lawmakers) that you'll fix it in special session" to requiring that the fix be done next week.

Lingle insists that her demand is the same as it ever was.

In letters to Lingle on Friday, Hannemann, Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say urged the governor to allow House Bill 1309 to become law and make adjustments later.

The Legislature plans to convene Tuesday for one day to override some of Lingle's vetos. However, amending a bill would take at least three days, said House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa.

"I don't think the (state) Department of Taxation or the city and county have a definite idea of how they would set up tax collection and disbursement and the actual cost of running the program," Oshiro said. "If we do something hasty, I'm concerned we'll create more problems."

Instead, Oshiro said, since the tax wouldn't take effect until 2007, "we can use the remaining months before the regular session, which is only six months away, to come up with some kind of workable, practical, nonduplicative tax collection system that addresses her concerns and City and County of Honolulu's concerns."

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, predicted yesterday that the Senate will not override Lingle's veto, but that the bill will become law without her signature. That stance is based on the Legislature's lawyers' advice that a typo in Lingle's veto notice giving the wrong bill number invalidates the notice.

The state attorney general has issued an opinion that the intent of the veto message is clear, but Inouye said she believes the matter will be taken to court.

City & County of Honolulu

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