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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lingle speech sows seeds of cooperation

 •  Lingle tax plan in sync with Legislature's

Gov. Linda Lingle's substantive election-year State of the State speech yesterday made a strong case for bipartisan cooperation that the Democrats who control the Legislature will be forced to answer.

The biggest point of contention will come in the area of tax relief. Lingle called for some $285 million in tax relief, a substantial amount coming in the form of permanent income tax cuts.

This will face tough going in the House, where leadership favors focusing the surplus on one-time spending on unmet needs.

Yet even in the area of tax relief, which she's proposed in some form every year since taking office, Lingle offered some flexibility by endorsing Senate President Robert Bunda's tax plan in addition to her own.

If lawmakers are going to move toward accepting some kind of tax relief in their final spending package, they would be wise to avoid permanent changes in the law and instead focus on rebates or credits, which could be one-time and would not box us in if the economy goes sour again.

HOPE FOR AGREEMENT

But on many other issues, ranging from housing to education to energy self-sufficiency, Lingle found herself focusing on the same general goals as the Democratic legislative leadership. This offers hope for a productive session.

The speech was remarkably free of "dead on arrival" proposals. There was, thankfully, nothing like the proposal to break up the state school system that distracted energies in previous years.

Lingle's speech offered much to consider:

  • Lingle proposes to boost the state's "rainy day" or set-aside fund from $55 million to $110 million. That's a small but necessary investment in protecting the state against the unexpected.

  • Lingle effectively endorsed all tax-relief ideas save the Democrats' proposal for a state earned income tax credit. She wants a $100-per-person tax credit against food and drug expenses for lower-income families, an idea Democrats have endorsed in the past. She sensibly did not call for elimination of the excise tax on food and drugs, a longtime GOP proposal that the Democrats have always fought.

    She endorsed both her own plan to boost the standard deduction and Bunda's proposal to adjust the tax brackets. Considering all the other expenses facing the state today, that may be too rich of a package to push through all in one year.

  • On the pressing need to repair our aging schools, Lingle sought to have it both ways. She complained that the Department of Education is having a hard time spending the $570 million already in the pipeline for repairs, but then announced she would tuck another $90 million into the fund for construction, repairs and maintenance.

    Expect to see the specifics of that list of $90 million in projects show up on the campaign trail later this year.

    And she repeated her call for an innovative set of initiatives such as a master teacher plan and a system to get qualified teachers who have yet to win their credentials into our schools. These ideas, directly aimed at the teacher shortage, deserve strong consideration by the Democrats.

    SKIP CHARTER SCHOOLS

    One area that should be dealt with quickly is charter schools. The governor proposed the creation of seven new charters focused on environmental education and suggested the charter schools be allowed to comprise their own district, thus allowing them to independently pursue federal money.

    Democratic legislators are unlikely to go for this idea, so it would be better to set it aside and focus on areas of cooperation rather than fighting over it all session.

  • Regarding housing, the two big ideas here and both make sense are to authorize revenue bonds to build affordable "workforce" housing and to put more of the Legacy Lands tax income into the housing fund. Both ideas deserve swift approval.

  • One of the brightest opportunities for cooperation and progress between the governor and Legislature lies in the area of energy. In addition to an emphasis on biofuels and credits for energy-efficient appliances and energy systems, Lingle made a strong commitment to making Hawai'i the center of America's development of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source.

    In all, it was a worthy speech, visionary in places, sensitive to the needs of the state and careful to plant the seeds of bipartisan cooperation.

    Let's hope those seeds finally take hold this session so lawmakers can get meaningful work accomplished for Hawai'i.