Lingle: Legislature ‘playing politics’ with school boards plan

NUKOLI’I — Republican Gov. Linda Lingle Wednesday night accused the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives of “playing politics with children’s future”by killing a bill that proposed establishment of local school boards.

The House during the 2002 session passed similar legislation, with House leaders at that time saying the plan was “crucial”if improvements in public education were to be made, she said.

“I want us to have local school boards like every other state in the union does,”Lingle told a crowd of nearly 400 people at the Republican Party of Kaua’i’s Lincoln Day Dinner at the Radisson Kaua’i Beach Resort here.

The state Department of Education won’t be able to meet strict new standards associated with the No Child Left Behind federal legislation without local school boards, Lingle said.

Staying on the first item of her three-pronged address (improve schools, improve trust in government, expand the economy), the governor said home-schooled students need to be treated with more respect, and be allowed to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at the schools they would be attending if they were in public school.

Also, she favors a bill to support teachers who have to discipline disruptive students in classrooms. “They have been let loose. They haven’t been backed up,”she said of teachers.

Lingle’s attorney general will support teachers who face legal action for disciplinary decisions they make in classrooms, she promised.

Switching gears, she addressed the somber reality that the nation and world are preparing for war. “You just can’t avoid that it’s a possibility,”said Lingle, adding that President Bush may need to make a heart-wrenching decision to send young Americans into battle.

Back to the state budget and state Legislature, Lingle sounded a bit like a mother speaking to her free-spending son.

“This is a time to take stock, to live within means,”something the state Legislature has not done for years, Lingle continued.

She is beginning to understand why people don’t really believe her when she says there is not enough money in state coffers to fund all the big and small projects being proposed.

For years, the state Legislature has sung the same tune, only to miraculously find money at the end of the legislative session to fund nearly every request, she said.

They’ve done it by raiding special funds, retirement funds, and coming up with other types of “one-time financial fixes”that when totaled up have led to state government being under-funded by some $2 billion, said Lingle.

“Higher salaries aren’t for one year. They continue on.”So, it would make sense that recurring costs need to have recurring sources of revenue attached to fund them through the years, she said.

Though former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s final fiscal biennial budget, submitted after Lingle was elected but before she was sworn into office, tapped the remaining $85 million in the hurricane relief fund, Lingle vowed not to use a penny of that fund, a comment that drew loud applause from the partisan Kaua’i crowd.

“We’re not going to use it,”she said.

Another budget-balancing gimmick that won’t see the light of day in Lingle’s six-year budget plan is something the Democratic administration inserted into the budget called “dynamic impact,”she explained.

The theory goes that if the state borrows $1 billion to fund construction projects, over the years that will generate several millions of dollars in additional tax revenues as the work is done.

The problem is that the money isn’t something that can be put into a bank account, and the bottom line that is tangible is around $50 million a year in debt service that would have to be paid back on that $1 billion loan, she said.

“We have to get honesty in government accounting,”said Lingle, who added that her six-year budget plan raids no special funds, employs no “dynamic impact”schemes, and at the end of six years will result in a surplus of $630 million, “if they (the state Legislature) will follow this plan.”

“They’ve had decades”to make change, she said of the Democratic Party that still is a majority in the Legislature.

On another revenue-generating idea, to give the counties money from uncontested traffic tickets in the counties where the tickets were issued, Lingle said it’s unfair that Kaua’i real property taxpayers fund Kaua’i Police Department salaries, equipment including cars and radar units, yet all the fines collected here go to O’ahu.

She vowed to bring “uncontested traffic tickets (revenues) back to Kaua’i, where it belongs.”

Lingle, the first county mayor in Hawai’i ever elected governor in the state, is also the first female governor the state ever had, and the first Republican governor in decades.

She thinks Kaua’i’s use of volunteer labor as a way to meet federal matching-funds obligations, as happened at the Lihu’e gateway project, could be broadened for statewide use.

Many of her plans, like this island’s volunteerism, seek solutions that don’t cost taxpayers more money, she said.

Finally, on the issue of restoring trust in state government, she is proposing a range of initiatives, including an automatic-recount provision where election races are as close as fractions of percentage points.

Only Hawai’i among the states does not have an automatic-recount law, she said.

Hawai’i is also alone or nearly alone among the states in that it does not post election results for each precinct at each precinct as soon as they’re available after the polls close on election days, she said.

She also wants to end a system that mandates that the chief precinct officer at each precinct be of the party of the governor. It should be “any person, any party,”she said.

“We’re a democracy, and when the election’s over, everybody’s supposed to be able to participate.”

Reforming campaign finance laws is another priority, she added, pointing out that the ongoing investigations into donations by certain individuals to various campaigns, including the campaign of Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, a former Kaua’i county councilmember, show the need for reform.

First on her trust agenda is honesty in government, including an honest system of awarding government contracts that gives everyone a chance of winning those awards, she continued.

Laws that aren’t friendly to business must be changed, too, she said. “We don’t apologize for it. We’re pro-business, because pro-business is pro-jobs, and that’s pro-family.”

Lingle said the state’s Civil Rights Commission nearly always sides with employees over employers in disputes and lawsuits, and the system from the start is a bit skewed, as employees have the option of going first to the commission or court, and employers must go to the pro-employee commission first in disputes.

She also plans to push for reform of state income tax laws, so that the poorest residents who receive public assistance won’t also have to pay taxes, as occurs now, she said.

The standard deduction hasn’t been changed in 13 years, and her plan would immediately preclude 18,000 low-income residents in Hawai’i from having to file any state income-tax forms, and free 44,000 others from having to itemize deductions on state tax forms.

That will free up state Department of Taxation workers to go after legitimate delinquencies and suspected tax cheats, she said.

Hawai’i made the front page of The Wall Street Journal, she said, for being the sixth-harshest state in the union in terms of taxing its poorest residents.

“We need to rise up, all of us who are for the little guy, to strive to lift them up.”

Lingle recalled a time not so long ago, when she was inaugurated as mayor of Maui County, the same month and year (January, 1991) that Iraq invaded Kuwait, starting the Gulf War.

It was a time of slumping tourism and a down economy. But in two years time, Maui came back in a big way, Lingle says because of her hiring of pro-business department heads there.

When she helps lead that turnaround statewide, she won’t forget the need for funds to maintain various state parks on Kaua’i and across Hawai’i, she concluded.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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