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”Long-Term Tax May Be Terminal, Thanks to Senate”

Both Houses in the Hawaii State Legislature will meet today, on the 59th day of the 60-day session, to review and vote on final forms of bills.

But one of the most controversial and damaging bills to pass both Houses — imposing a monthly long-term care tax on the majority of Hawaii’s public between the ages of 25 and 99 — may not pass the Senate this session.

While the majority of Democrats in the House have pushed this legislation, the Senate has been cooler to the idea, and some Democrat Senators are looking for an out to passing the largest-ever tax increase in the state — especially when Hawaii already has the fourth-highest taxes in the nation.

That is partly because the public continues to step up the pressure, and call, fax and email legislators to tell them of their opposition to the idea. The governor, who says she plans to veto the measure, also has encouraged the public and her supporters to call their legislators and lobby against the tax increase.

The “out” some Democrat senators are seeking may have come last Friday night. A question of procedure arose when the Senate may not have properly adjourned Friday, giving the long-term care tax proposal the required 48 hours prior to voting today.

Some insiders believe the Democrats, who never like to vote anything down or take part in vigorous debate in support of tax and spending ideas, would be extremely relieved if the procedural issue will be raised, and they don’t have to vote on the measure. They also are strategizing if it will be politically wise to call a special session, after the governor vetoes the measure, to override her veto. They will need two-thirds of the legislators in both House to agree to an override.

If the procedural issue is raised, the Senate has options. The bill can be recommitted for next year, be allowed to die or voted on Thursday, May 1, the final day of the session. If it does not pass this year, the proposal will still be alive next year because the Legislature operates on a two-year cycle.

The proposal, which includes a tax of between $10 and $25 per month per person will go into a newly created special fund, be managed by yet another new government agency, and require the hiring of even more government workers to create a system to subsidize long-term care for those who have not saved or bought insurance for their later years. Those who are truly destitute are already cared for in their later years with taxpayer funds.

With this plan, after individuals are vested for 10 years and are qualified by a board to receive the funds, they will be issued up to $70 a day for their long-term care. Of course long-term care costs much more than $70 per day — even now — but there is no plan as to where the rest of the money will come from.

Many senior citizens on a limited income are realizing they too will have to pay until they die, turn 99 years old, or need long-term care themselves.

Young couples, just starting a family, also are upset, not wanting to have their limited income spent on subsidizing the long-term care of people who don’t plan for their later years and who are not truly needy.

Rep. Bud Stonebraker, R-Hawaii Kai, who is opposed to the plan, pleaded with his fellow House members to kill the proposal and “not take food out of the mouths of his children” — including one baby who is on the way.

The private insurance industry and the people employed in that industry are angry about the proposal too, saying the government plan will kill off the private industry in Hawaii rather than encourage people to take the initiative to take care of themselves.

”Senate Democrats Disappointed with Governor’s Thumbs Down to HTA Appointee”

Gov. Linda Lingle did not opt to appoint Ben Kudo to the Hawaii Tourism Authority — a move that disappointed some Democrat leaders in the Senate.

Kudo, nominated by Gov. Benjamin Cayetano last year after he received the names of three candidates from the Senate majority, has served as an interim appointee since 2002.

Senate Vice President Donna Kim, D-Kalihi, says much like the way that Lingle was upset after Senate Democrats voted down two of her appointees for the University of Hawaii Board of Regents Friday, Senate Democrats were disappointed when the governor opted not to appoint Kudo again, as was required because of the timing of the appointment last year.

The governor told Kim and other Democrats in the Senate that she wanted to appoint someone with more industry experience. Kim believes Kudo has that experience.

In the editorial published yesterday — “This Sucks” — one of the theories explored as to why the Senate Democrats voted down Shelton Jim On and Edward Sultan, was in retaliation by Senate Democrats against the governor for turning down their choice for the HTA board.

Kim, who could not be reached for comment before the story was published, denied the connection and told HawaiiReporter.com this kind of reporting does not help relations between her and the governor.

”Honolulu City Council to Hold Budget Hearing Tomorrow”

The Honolulu City Council will hold a budget hearing tomorrow beginning at 4 p.m. to get the public’s input on proposed tax and fee increases put forth by Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

The mayor is proposing the highest-ever property tax increase in the city’s history to balance the city’s budget. He also is proposing to raise user fees in virtually every division of city services.

The mayor is under fire from some council members and citizens who are concerned over the mayor’s spending habits that have drained special funds, extended the city’s credit nearly to the 20 percent debt ceiling regulated by the city charter, and left the city facing a huge debt.

City Councilmember Charles Djou, who is strongly opposed to any tax increase, says the mayor is proposing to increase city spending by 5.5 percent next year. He says if the mayor is willing to cut his increase to the budget by just 2 percent, the tax increase will not be needed.

The mayor says cutting his increase will leave the city in a precarious position.

Those wanting to submit testimony to the City Council can fax it to 527-6888. They can also sign up to give testimony at the city clerks office located on the second floor of City Hall on Punchbowl Street.

”Chuck Norris Gives Governor Kudos for Attacking Rumors of SARS in Chinatown”

In a recent speech to the members of Small Business Hawaii, Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism said Hollywood Celebrity and Martial Arts Expert Chuck Norris is in Hawaii working on his latest television series.

Norris, who talked with the governor the day she ate at six restaurants in Chinatown to support the merchants and put an end to the rumor that patrons of Chinatown restaurants could be exposed to the “mystery” illness, SARS, which has infected more than 5,000 people worldwide, says he was impressed with the governor’s support of business and public relations tactics.

”Erin Brockovich is Coming to Hawaii”

Erin Brockovich, made famous in the award-winning movie starring Julia Roberts, will be in Hawaii on June 22 to speak to the American Businesswomen’s Association-Imua Chapter.

Brockovich, who will be celebrating her birthday on the day of the speech, will speak for about an hour on the toxic tort case she headed that resulted in a record-breaking settlement of $333 million for 634 plaintiffs in Hinkley, CA.

The superstar, who is launching her own television series, and is the author of a book entitled “Life’s a Challenge, but You Can Do It,” has ties to Hawaii. The law firm she works for is involved in a lawsuit over water quality in Central Oahu.

Her law firm also plans to open a branch in Hawaii.

The public is invited and can purchase tickets for $75 to attend the luncheon program by calling 545-1909 or by logging on to http://www.erinbrockovich.wallstreetwebmasters.com

Companies also are welcome to sponsor the event at various levels ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per sponsorship, in kind or in cash. Haimoff and Haimoff Jewelers, The Hilton Hawaiian Village, The Four Seasons Resort in Maui, The Downtown YWCA, Hawaii Woman Magazine, Fingerprints Print Shop, Small Business Hawaii and HawaiiReporter.com have already signed up as sponsors.

”’To reach legislators, see: “Representatives at a Glance” and “Senators at a Glance””’

”’Send any tittle or tattle you might have to Malia Zimmerman at mailto:Malia@HawaiiReporter.com Send complaints elsewhere. Compliments and news tips accepted here.”’

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards.