Hawaii Legislature allows veto of oil tax, overrides 38 others: Airline industry puts on 'full-court press'

-- Jul. 16--A late push by the airline industry helped persuade the state Senate yesterday not to override a veto of a bill that would have raised the barrel tax on petroleum products by $1 to help pay for food and energy security programs...

"For years, we've talked about moving towards renewable energy and ensuring Hawai'i's food security," Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter, said in a statement. "Given our current energy crisis, it is inconceivable the Senate would not support a relatively manini tax in order to fund our clean energy future.

"Apparently the Senate isn't willing to move past simply talking about our problem."

Jeff Mikulina, the executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, said the Senate "lacked the political courage to make this investment in Hawai'i's clean energy future."

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said the arguments from the airlines were persuasive, particularly for senators from the Neighbor Islands. "We can't afford to have another airline go down," she said, referring to the shutdown of Aloha Airlines last year.

Hanabusa said lawmakers may consider the barrel-tax bill again next session, perhaps with some protections for interisland airlines and carriers that fly out of the Neighbor Islands.

Other senators said gas prices have already been driven higher this month after the Lingle administration and the Legislature agreed not to extend a general-excise tax exemption related to ethanol-blended gas. The barrel tax would have pushed gas prices higher.

While the House and Senate could not agree on the barrel tax, lawmakers did override a record number of Lingle's vetoes, including bills that represent important policy differences between majority Democrats and the Republican governor.

Bills that now become law include:

--A card-check measure that allows workers to be recognized as a union when a majority sign union cards, an alternative to secret-ballot elections.

--A restriction on the ability of companies to discriminate against workers based on their credit histories, with exceptions for managers and supervisors and workers in financial institutions with federally insured deposits.

--An appropriation of $12 million in state money to attract $15 million in federal funds to help hospitals cover the costs of treating the poor and disabled.

--The creation of a climate change task force through money diverted from the tourism special fund.

--The restoration of Keiki Care, a partnership between the state and the Hawai'i Medical Service Association to provide basic healthcare for so-called gap group children not covered by public or private health insurance. Lingle had pulled state funding for the partnership last year and may not release money for the program even though her veto was overridden.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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