Legislature's Democrats willing to hear Lingle out
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
But they questioned how she would fulfill some of her campaign promises while balancing the state budget.
Lingle's victory in the gubernatorial race marks the first time since 1962 that Hawai'i will have a Republican governor. It also puts the Democratic majority in the Legislature in the unchartered territory of dealing with a Republican administration. Democrats hold 36 seats in the 51-member House and 20 seats in the 25-member Senate.
Gov. Ben Cayetano said the presence of a Republican governor will create greater checks and balances than before. He also said it will take some time for both sides to establish their relationship.
"I think she's really going to have to work with them and build up some trust," Cayetano said. "If she can do that, she might actually get a few things done. It's going to be tough ... because there is a difference in philosophy."
While Lingle's style of politics is largely pragmatic and her platform on social issues is middle-of-the-road, she does have some significant ideological differences with Democratic lawmakers.
An example highlighted in the campaign was her opposition to legislation passed this year that would set price caps on gasoline and charge a 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans, as well as laws aimed at reducing prescription drug costs and regulating health insurance companies.
Lingle specifically said she would work to repeal the gasoline price cap legislation. She has also promised to streamline government, eliminate the general excise tax on medical services and re-instate the food tax credit.
Democratic legislative leaders yesterday said that while they will consider Lingle's proposals thoroughly, they also have some reservations about her agenda particularly proposals that they say will eat into the state tax revenue base.
The budget will be the primary concern when Legislature meets in January. As of June 30, the state had a surplus of $134 million, compared with the $349 million surplus the year before.
Lingle has said she would balance the budget by eliminating government fraud and waste and expanding the economy, but experts have said it is unlikely either approach would suddenly generate hundreds of millions in "found" money or new tax revenue.
"Right now, the concerns would be the promises she has made to the general public at large that will have a tremendous price tag attached to the budget," said House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), who called Lingle's promise to eliminate the tax on medical services "political rhetoric."
"How is she going to make up the loss of revenues in regards to the tax cuts that she's proposing?" he asked. "Is it going to be by attrition? We've gone through that exercise. Will it be by layoffs? She has said publicly there will be no public employee layoffs."
Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa), agreed with Say's assessment.
"I have some reservations about some of the things that she's talked about during the campaign but that's not going to stop us from looking into what she's proposing," Bunda said.
Republicans lost ground in the House, giving up a total of four seats from the 19 they occupied in the last two years. The Republicans need one-third of the House 17 votes to pull shelved bills out of committee, and at least 18 to block efforts to override a veto.
But House Minority Leader Galen Fox, R-23rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaka'ako), is glad to see "a Republican governor constitutionally positioned to set the agenda."