Gov. Neil Abercrombie was asked whether he’s abandoned his campaign promise of no general excise tax increase, and he displayed the obfuscatory powers of a guy with a master’s degree, a Ph.D. and 40 years of political tap dancing.
"No, but we’ll just see what transpires," he said. "There’s always variations on themes that come up. And we have to see how that manifests itself."
Such circular rhetoric has been typical lately as Abercrombie tries to squirm out of his unequivocal pledge to not raise the GET to balance the budget.
He started backpedaling in a TV interview, saying he wouldn’t rule out an increase because of unfunded pension liabilities, which were well known when he made his campaign promise.
After an OmniTrak survey showed 68 percent of the public opposes a higher excise tax, his office issued a statement that the governor didn’t propose raising the tax in his legislative plan.
But his spokeswoman added, "If a measure to raise the GET passes out of the Legislature because other elements of his plan are not adopted, he will of course consider it as the people’s will."
The suggestion that he’d consider what the Legislature might want to be the "people’s will," ahead of the actual will of the people who elected him on a promise of no GET increase, seemed a wink to lawmakers that if they raise it, he won’t veto it.
In releasing his updated budget, Abercrombie said raising the tax is the worst option but then repeated at a private meeting with senators that he’d consider an increase if legislators believe it necessary, news reports said.
The head fakes gain him no wiggle room from his absolute campaign promise to not raise the GET.
At a September candidate forum, Abercrombie said, "I’m against raising the GET tax without equivocation." In a subsequent TV interview, he promised never to raise the excise tax as governor.
His Recovery and Reinvestment Plan stated, "The general excise tax will not be raised. Given the public’s lost confidence in government, no reasonable argument can be made to raise the GET."
There were no conditions about the will of the Legislature or "variations on themes that come up." And it’s a promise the governor can enforce; legislators would find it politically untenable to force a tax increase over a veto threat.
Campaign promises can be darned inconvenient after you’re elected, which is why a guy with all that higher learning should be careful about those he makes.
If a GET increase is enacted on Abercrombie’s watch — especially in his first year — it’ll be a broken promise that hangs around his neck like George H.W. Bush’s infamous "Read my lips: no new taxes."