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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 22, 2006

Given the surplus, spare us a deficit of good legislation

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Calvin Say had the most quotable quote of the Legislature's opening-day speeches when he talked about the empty gesture of returning the state's surplus to taxpayers, saying: "Three hundred million dollars is a lot of money, but when you add up your share of the refund, what do you get? Enough extra to buy another loco-moco every week or another plate lunch."

Well, if you're buying those deluxe plate lunches, the ones with steak or shrimp then, yeah, he's right. But if Calvin Say bought his chicken katsu at L&L, he could stretch it out a little bit. Maybe two mini-katsus a week. Fruit punch, too.

Of course, no die-hard Democrat would patronize L&L because owner Eddie Flores is such a Republican Party darling.

And that just about sums up the tone going in to the 2006 legislative session: The opposing political parties refuse to sit at the same table together, even though there's finally a big enough helping of katsu to go around. It can't be a cooperative effort. Somebody has to go down hard. Somebody has to be humiliated.

Republican Lynn Finnegan's speech was so polished, she managed to glide through a huge U-turn without incurring any whiplash. While talking about her father's years of hard work and sacrifice, she said:

"If you ask my father today what he would do with Hawai'i's tax surplus, he would probably say help the homeless or improve education. This is from a man whose body is tired and worn."

She was heading in the Democrats' direction and then turned on a dime: "This is exactly why your Republican caucus is focused on pursuing the tax-relief issue this session."

Wait, I thought Dad wanted his tax rebate to go to the schools. Why you trying to give him the two mini-katsus?

How about listening to Finnegan's dad and using that surplus to fix the schools, because too many kids are having to go to school in just shameful conditions despite Gov. Linda Lingle's insistence that everything would be taken care of if only the Democratic stronghold in the Department of Education was overthrown.

OK, then the Democrats have to give something. Toss out the gas cap. It's too fluky, too complicated and too tied to vendetta by Democrats intent on punishing oil companies.

Both parties can score points with tax breaks for middle-class families. Folks in Liliha working regular jobs are paying at the same rate as millionaires living up Hawai'i Loa Ridge. The state has been careening through cycles of feast or famine. Fix the system so there won't be crazy surplus years and horrible deficits.

Here lies the challenge: Can the Republicans and Democrats work together enough to accomplish SOMETHING this session?

Never mind what that something is, just as long as it's something more meaningful that two mini-katsus.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.