Wednesday, January 15, 2003

HONOLULU, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Hawaii’s Legislature formally convened Wednesday in a spirit of gracious bipartisan consensus although the 50th State nonetheless still faces a tight budget and sputtering economy at a time when lawmakers have been calling for lower taxes and improved public schools.

There were vows of bipartisanship as Hawaii finds itself in the same budgetary straits as many mainland states.

“I intend to advocate a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Senate President Robert Bunda said as the session opened. “But, we do not intend to sacrifice common sense solutions in our quest for consensus.”

The session convened as a soft “pineapple” rain fell on Honolulu and native Hawaiian protestors continued their annual vigil at nearby Iolani Palace to mark the 110th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has proposed an $8 billion two-year budget that must be passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature at a time when some of her GOP colleagues are seeking tax relief and other lawmakers are insisting that something be done to improve Hawaii’s creaking public schools.

Among the proposals being floated are mandatory drug testing for high school students and construction of a new treatment facility for drug offenders.

Lingle, the former Maui mayor who was elected as Hawaii’s first female governor in November, has stated she would not dip into the state’s $175 million hurricane emergency fund in order to pay for other projects.

“We have to be sure that the state of Hawaii will not be hampered during recovery efforts and that insurance will be readily available to homeowners and businesses,” Lingle’s acting budget director, Georgina Kawamura, told the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. “Also, we believe that to restore trust in government, this obligation must be fulfilled and the intent of the fund must remain intact.”

Projects on the Legislature’s wish list include reviving proposals to build a light-rail system in Honolulu and reducing the excise tax from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, and eliminating it from purchases of food and medical services.

“It is easy to see what taxes alone contribute to Hawaii’s sad reputation of being one of the most expensive places to live in the nation,” State Senate Republican Leader Fred Hemmings told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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