Kanoho: Tax increase for education may be needed in new state budget

GOP says no new taxes needed for education plans. If the state’s public education needs are funded without the benefit of a tax increase, some social-services needs will go unmet, predicted state Rep. Ezra Kanoho, D-Wailua-Lihu’e-Koloa.

Stating that the number-one issue before the state Legislature is the state budget, which was approved earlier this week by the state House of Representatives, Kanoho said “it’ll be a neat trick to fulfill all the human-services needs, education needs, and other obligations of the state,” while balancing the state budget and dealing with projections of less state revenue to do that balancing.

A Republican response on the issue shows that education funding is to be increased in the new budget.

State Rep. Galen Fox, Waikiki-Ala Wai, said Gov. Linda Lingle’s budget for fiscal year 2004 shows that without tax increases the budget has an increase in education spending of 8.73 percent (compared to the fiscal 2003 budget), shows public libraries budgeting is up 18.6 percent, that the University of Hawai’i budget is up 7.3 percent and that the overall, general-fund budget is up 4.8 percent.

The Legislature’s plan is to “very carefully allocate, and look at every conceivable source of revenue,” including special funds like the hurricane relief fund, Kanoho said.

“Where lives, health and safety are involved, we’ll have to make some tough decisions,” Kanoho said.

If at the end of the session lawmakers feel they really have no choice but to raise taxes in order to fulfill critical needs including education, they may propose a tax increase, he said.

The state Senate has already voted in favor of increasing the state’s general excise tax one half of one percent, to fund the education deficit.

Without the increase, legislators would be left to make some difficult slashes of critical human-services programs, said Kanoho, indicating that a tax increase is not a certainty at this point.

“We’re still very reluctant to raise taxes or fees,” said Kanoho, who has again this session proposed legislation to raise fees paid for those renting space at the various state small boat harbors.

The fees would be used to make repairs to small boat harbors, some of which have had to be closed because lack of repair and maintenance has rendered them unsafe, he said.

Those mooring fees have not been raised for years, he said.

While the state’s fiscal outlook appears bleak, Hawai’i is still in “much better shape than most other states,” Kanoho said.

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

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