comscore Some senators surprised that Abercrombie is a politician, too
Editorial | On Politics

Some senators surprised that Abercrombie is a politician, too

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This is how the GET was not raised and the governor and the Senate learned not to trust each other.

In early March, after a private breakfast meeting with Senate Democrats and Gov. Neil Abercrombie, senators felt they had assurances that the governor would not block an increase of the general excise tax.

While raising the GET is a red-hot controversy, senators felt they would at least not be criticized by Abercrombie and went ahead with the tax increase as part of their budget plan.

"I was at the breakfast meeting and he said he thought the GET was fine," said one veteran Democrat senator this week.

Senators felt safe because in February, Abercrombie’s press secretary had said that while the governor didn’t like a GET increase, if the Legislature passed it, "He will consider it the will of the people."

Later in a television interview, Abercrombie said he was "flexible" on the issue of raising the GET.

All this came after Abercrombie had promised clearly during last year’s campaign that he would not raise the GET. But, senators at the breakfast meeting said, it was Abercrombie who brought up the idea of increasing the GET.

Senators are, after all, politicians, so it is understandable to them that promises made in the heat of a campaign might not be ones you really have to keep.

Then last month, Abercrombie announced that he was supporting the House plan to raise taxes by dropping the GET exemptions on various business and was really, really against raising the GET.

Senators who were willing to risk their own political capital to raise the GET to balance the budget felt they had been hung out to dry by Abercrombie, who was siding with House Speaker Calvin Say.

"I think there are some growing pains," says Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who noted that he is dealing with several new senators.

"I think in the future we will be able to communicate a little bit more efficiently," Tsutsui added.

The money chief in the Senate is Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

"Clearly in the beginning part of the session, he (Abercrombie) said he was open to it. He said whatever the Legislature decided to do, he would end up supporting it.

"That was clearly where he started, that is why we explored it and held hearings on the GET," said Ige.

The tax bill died in committee when Ige’s own motion to pass the tax bill failed, complicating the Legislature’s own plans to balance the budget.

"Once GET was off the table, we were scrambling to make the budget balance," said Ige.

The senators were also upset with Abercrombie’s own budget planning because they had thought the governor would be able to get more concessions from the public workers in labor negotiations.

"I thought it was important to maintain the labor savings of two furlough days a month," said Ige, who added that Abercrombie had told him "he would try."

In the end, Abercrombie got only one furlough day. That was when senators came up with a new way to raid the tax on rental cars. The money was supposed to go to build a new rental car facility, but now it goes to balance the budget.

The distance between Abercrombie and Senate leadership is so wide now that when Abercrombie asked for extra time last Friday to pass a $2.2 million bill to pay claims against the state, the Senate said there would be no more time extensions.

Growing pains, indeed.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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