Balanced budget was Legislature's top achievement
By Calvin Say
Bobby: With all the problems we are having with the recession, why do you want to tax the tourist — the very people who put money into our economy? If anything, we should make coming to Hawai'i more attractive, not a place to come and get soaked.
Calvin Say: The transient accommodations tax increase was one of many proposals introduced by the Legislature. In addressing the TAT, we intended it to be enacted for six years. Also, I did not want to pass a general excise tax, which would be much more regressive than the hotel room tax. This will generate much-needed revenues while having a minimal impact on tourism.
We tried to be very selective in addressing any tax proposals, with as minimal impact as possible on the poor and middle class.
808poet: During your legislative opening-day speech, you said that maintaining social service programs was one of your primary goals this session. Can you explain how/why these "across-the-board" tax hikes (that will affect the wealthy, tobacco users and tourists) will work better than Gov. Linda Lingle's budget-balancing plan? Legislators were determined to override Lingle's tax hike vetoes. Are there any other "priority" bills that the Legislature is determined to override if Lingle vetoes those bills by July 15th?
Say: As I've stated, the tax increase measures we've chosen are meant to impact Hawai'i residents as little as possible. We have a $2.1 billion deficit which we must address to balance the budget. Tax increases were only a small part of our efforts. We also cut $800-plus million in general funds.
There are many bills that are before the governor, and for a lot of them, we have a supermajority to override them. These are in the area of healthcare, such as Keiki Care program for uninsured children, matching state fund appropriations for federal Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals throughout the state. Other measures include human services in the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and the food and energy security bill.
808poet: I realize that as a lawmaker, you will always run into people who do not agree with tax hikes. I am personally not fond of all the tobacco tax hikes that have been passed. I almost wish the Legislature would go after the alcoholics instead. But despite peoples' opinions, what would you say were the highlights/achievements this legislative session?
Say: Given the current economic climate, passing a balanced budget was the most significant achievement this session.
Interested Voter: No one wants to raise taxes or make cuts to services, especially during these hard economic times, but you made those difficult but necessary decisions to help balance the state budget, when the governor wouldn't. I thank you for that.
If the bargaining units don't agree to any concessions, would that necessitate more budget cuts and possibly more rising of taxes?
Say: Let's be clear that the Legislature has no role in the collective bargaining negotiations. If those negotiations fail, it is first up to the governor to make restrictions or layoffs. We will be awaiting the May 28 Council on Revenues projections to see if more cuts are needed.
Roland: I keep hearing about our K-12 public schools. What did lawmakers do to improve the UH this session? How was their budget impacted?
Say: We tried our best to restore cuts proposed by the administration. First, during the year, the 4 percent restriction on the universitywide system, and then questioning the need to cut another $30-plus-million for the University of Hawai'i. I have grave concerns that the $30-plus-million cut will affect a greater proportion of the Manoa campus. Lecturers, support services, warm bodies will be affected come July 1, 2009.
We did not agree to the cuts proposed by the governor to our community colleges. Therefore, our community colleges were spared because of the increased enrollment.
From The Top: Do you think the upcoming election had any role in how lawmakers voted, specifically on the hot issues such as civil unions?
Kukui: What will happen if the revenue projections worsen? Will there be a special session with more cuts? What about our nonprofits?
Say: If the revenue projections worsen by the end of this fiscal year, the Legislature may call itself back or the governor may call for a special session. We tried our very best to provide partial funding to nonprofit organizations in the operations of the services they provide. We also appropriated bond funds to the nonprofit organizations for their capital improvement projects.