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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Gas price caps up for vote

By Kevin Dayton and Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Lawmakers fielded calls and visits yesterday from opponents of bills that would allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients to allow them to end their lives, and that would cap retail and wholesale gasoline prices.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is expected to accept the state budget.

Advertiser library photo

Both bills are scheduled for final floor votes today before lawmakers adjourn the session and head home to prepare for this year's election. Gov. Ben Cayetano is expected to sign those measures into law if they pass.

About a dozen gas station owners from O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands visited lawmakers' offices in the state Capitol to urge them to vote down the gasoline price caps in Senate Bill 2179, which if approved today would take effect in July 2004.

Kent Inouye, owner of Bayside Chevron in Hilo, said he has already cut 10 jobs from his operation because of rent increases, and would have to eliminate more jobs if the state caps what he can charge for gasoline.

With retail and wholesale price caps, "what probably will happen is the smaller stations will give up or close down," Inouye said. As it is, four or five small Big island stations have closed in the past year, he said.

The station owners expressed frustration that although lawmakers acknowledge there are flaws in the price cap bill, the representatives and senators want to pass it anyway and fix the problems in the 2003 and 2004 session of the Legislature.

The bill would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to set maximum wholesale and retail gasoline prices based on an index of West Coast gas prices.

The mere threat of the bill creates so much uncertainty for retailers that it would freeze financing and investment in station improvements, the station owners said.

Supporters of the bill contend the wholesale gas market is so completely dominated by a few players that there is little meaningful competition. The state sued the oil companies over gasoline price fixing allegations, but that case was settled this year after Chevron, Shell, Texaco, Unocal and Tosco agreed to pay the state a total of $20 million.

Assisted suicide

Opponents of a bill that would allow terminally ill, competent people to obtain lethal drugs to end their lives also made rounds in the Senate.

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, Roman Catholic Bishop of Honolulu, sent each senator a two-page letter urging them to vote against the bill.

It was still unclear yesterday whether the bill — which already cleared the House — would be approved in the Senate, but some senators and observers believed the measure would pass.

Tuesday's vote in the Senate was 13-12 in favor of advancing the assisted suicide bill, House Bill 2487, to a final vote today.

State budget

Cayetano has directed members of his Cabinet to report to him by tomorrow any strong concerns they have about the budget that lawmakers approved on Tuesday, but at this point a veto appears unlikely.

Cayetano had earlier complained that the budget cut too much money from social service and public safety programs, but the final version restored most, if not all, of the money from those areas.

Lawmakers had been poised to slash money for drug-abuse treatment programs and space in Mainland and federal facilities to relieve Hawai'i's overcrowded prisons.

Cayetano said that approach was shortsighted and unacceptable; the final budget restored that money to the health and public safety departments.

The governor said he would not hesitate to take the unprecedented step of rejecting the budget if additional concerns about cuts to social service programs remain, but that he was not inclined to do so.

"These programs cannot take any more hits," he said Tuesday. "They've been bearing the brunt of all the cuts over the last seven years."

He said a veto would jeopardize construction projects funded in the budget, however, such as $38 million for work at Maui Memorial Hospital that the legislature had rejected in previous years.

"If I veto the budget, I gotta veto the entire budget, so that goes down the tubes," Cayetano said. "It's a complicated process that I'm going to have to go through."

A spokeswoman said yesterday that Cayetano would review written reports from his Cabinet before further outlining his concerns.

He had proposed spending $213 million from the state's hurricane relief fund, saying the money was necessary to prevent deep cuts to social service and eduction programs.

Lawmakers instead agreed to siphon $29 million from the fund and to take about $155 million from other cash reserves to balance the state's $3.8 billion overall spending plan for the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

Advertiser staff writers Lynda Arakawa and Andrew Gomes contributed to this report. Reach Kevin Dayton and Johnny Brannon at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.