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Candidates pledge to leave counties’ hotel taxes intact

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Neil Abercrombie and James "Duke" Aiona, the two major candidates for governor, said last night that they would not take counties’ share of hotel room taxes to help balance the state’s budget.

The candidates have previously said they would not raise the excise tax, so their statements about hotel room taxes remove another option to generate revenue. State revenue projections have improved but the next governor will likely encounter budget difficulties with worker furloughs scheduled to end with the fiscal year in June and federal stimulus money expiring.

Gov. Linda Lingle and legislative leaders wanted to temporarily divert the counties’ share of the transient accommodations tax — known as the hotel room tax — to help balance the budget. But mayors successfully fought the move, arguing it would have led to higher property taxes and deeper cuts for counties.

"I have no intention, at this point in time, to in any way reducing and/or taking all of the TAT revenues that the counties now presently have in regards to our state budget," said Aiona, the Republican lieutenant governor hoping to succeed Lingle.

Former Congressman Abercrombie, the Democratic candidate, said counties receive a share of taxes to maintain county infrastructure tourists use.

"This shouldn’t be a contest between the state and the counties," he said, adding that he doubted lawmakers would have followed through. "I think that that was more a legislative ploy than a reality in terms of what would actually happen."

The candidates appeared at a forum on Maui sponsored by the Maui Economic Development Board and Hawaii Public Radio with Akaku Community Television. Both men answered questions on public education, alternative energy, infrastructure and preserving island culture, with an emphasis on neighbor island themes.

Both candidates want to decentralize decision-making authority at the state Department of Education and make principals more like chief executive officers. Aiona also has called for an independent financial and management audit of the department to identify waste and inefficiency.

Abercrombie said he does not need an audit, but rather an opportunity to work with educators.

A new poll by Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos, a national liberal website, found that the governor’s race was a statistical tie with Abercrombie at 49 percent, Aiona at 47 percent and 4 percent undecided. The margin of error was 2.7 percentage points. The survey was taken on Saturday and Sunday among 1,326 likely voters statewide.

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