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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Special session ends today with mixed reviews

By Lynda Arakawa and Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The Legislature wraps up its special session today, and the pundits begin their debate as to whether or not it achieved its goals.

Many say the Legislature accomplished important goals by giving help to the needy and those who lost their jobs, as well as boosting tourism marketing and public safety.

But political and business leaders give mixed reviews about whether lawmakers should have done more to deal with the economic fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

When asked what more lawmakers could have done, First Hawaiian Bank Chairman Walter Dods replied: "I really don't want to get into that."

Dods was tapped by Gov. Ben Cayetano to draft a plan to coax tourists back to Hawai'i, and "what we asked for, we got," Dods said. "To get into the game as to whether they should have done this or that, I don't want to do that ... It's a no-win situation."

State economist Pearl Imada Iboshi said one of the most important accomplishments by the Legislature was to make it easier for Cayetano to award construction contracts with a bill relaxing bidding procedures for projects under $250,000. She said the construction industry, a critical part of the Hawai'i economy, had already been lagging in the two months before the attacks.

Murray Towill, president of the Hawai'i Hotel Association, said the $10 million appropriation for tourism promotion alone made this a successful session.

"I think they did a good job," he said. "Obviously we felt that the measure that had the greatest immediate impact on the economy was going to be the $10 million, so we think that was a very positive thing for an immediate response trying to stimulate the economy, getting people back to work.

"I'm not sure how many realistic additional things they could have done," Towill said. "There may have been ideas out there, but I didn't really hear any that set off the alarms, and made you say, "Oh, my God, that is fantastic ... I never heard that."

He said waiving taxes might sound like a good idea but it may not be realistic because government needs to balance expenses with revenues.

Improvements to airport security and a bill giving tax credits for hotel and residential renovation and construction will also offer longer term benefits, he said.

"I think they did sort of craft a reasonable package that addresses a wide array of the issues. There are certainly people who would have liked them to do more in particular areas, and that's really the challenge in any kind of legislative process. You get the balance, you get the compromises, and they don't do everything that everybody wants."

Hawai'i Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle said the session successfully addressed emergency needs by extending unemployment benefits, establishing a health insurance program for those who lost coverage and aiding programs for the poor.

She also commended lawmakers for rejecting Cayetano's proposal to borrow $1 billion for construction and for limiting the terms of a measure giving Cayetano temporary emergency powers over statutes and certain state contracts.

But she and Republican lawmakers lamented the quick death of GOP proposals such as eliminating the 4 percent excise tax on food and allowing small business owners to collect unemployment benefits if they close their businesses.

House Republicans yesterday called for the Legislature to continue the special session, saying not enough was done for the broader public. They also said the Legislature should remain in session to address the state Council on Revenues' revised state tax collection forecast on Nov. 14.

"In normal circumstances, if (Council on Revenues figures) goes slightly down or slightly up, the governor can certainly make some adjustments," said Rep. Charles Djou, R-47th (Kahalu'u, Kane'ohe). "But these are anything but normal times. We're looking at some very, very dramatic and drastic changes that are going to be needed in Hawai'i state government."

Rep. Ed Case, D-23rd (Manoa), said the Legislature doesn't need to remain in special session to address the Council on Revenues projection.

"We know what the issues are, we don't need the Council on Revenues to tell us that there will be dramatic reduction in revenues over at least the next two years," he said. He said that the Legislature can still call itself back in before the regular session in January, but that lawmakers don't need to be in session to get work done. "This should be the most intense interim period that any Legislature has ever faced up to in our history."

House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro, D-40th (Wahiawa, Whitmore), said he's satisfied the Legislature addressed three main issues of public safety, economic revitalization and a social safety net. He also said the Legislature, in anticipation of a significant state revenue drop, was "very, very conservative" with state spending. He said he will push House Democrats to continue working during the interim.

Case, who is often at odds with his fellow Democrats, said: "Although we probably did what we should and could do immediately, it should be very plain to see what an incredible amount of work remains to be done. I think the public has and should have high demands and expectations of the Legislature in the next legislative session."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.