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Editorial | On Politics

Like Lingle, Abercrombie will face a day of reckoning

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For a new governor, the first year must be the most exciting.

Your image is still largely based on your successful election campaign. Your public perception is mostly a reflection of whatever promises of hope and change worked during the race.

And the hands on the wheels and levers of state government, while a bit unsure, are your hands, not your opponent’s, so there.

Still, a day of reckoning is coming.

That was the case eight years ago with Gov. Linda Lingle, the first Republican running state government in 40 years, and this year with Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the most liberal governor to lead Hawaii.

Both Lingle and Abercrombie started off with a definite mindset of how government should be. Lingle, the Republican, wanted less of it, while Abercrombie almost grieved that government couldn’t do more.

Interestingly, Lingle’s big first-year accomplishment was the revision of the state procurement code, to create committees to pick contractors for state jobs.

It was a needed reform, but it put more hands on the government wheel, rather than freeing up private enterprise.

For Abercrombie, the biggest structural change he accomplished was hacking away at the retirement benefits for future state hires, not exactly the hope and change he was selling on the stump last year.

Lingle was a true anti-tax Republican. Even in the midst of the state’s recession in 2003, she was pitching tax cuts, including increasing the standard deduction so that working poor would not be taxed.

It was an idea that had been a constant recommendation of the state’s Tax Review Commission, but Lingle’s idea did not pass.

Another staple of the Tax Review Commission this year was seized on by Abercrombie: applying the state income tax to persons with a pension in Hawaii.

Almost all of Abercrombie’s tax increases died. His plan for Hawaii had included a new tax on soda, plus increased taxes on liquor, tobacco and time-share condos.

And he wanted to take money away from the state’s biggest industry by removing subsidies to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. In contrast, Lingle wanted to chop back the subsidies given to the state’s new industry — high technology — by cutting the high-tech tax credit. Neither Lingle nor Abercrombie were successful.

Interestingly, in her first year Lingle was able to successfully negotiate new "no raise" contracts with all the state public worker unions, a triumph helped by having Ted Hong as the state’s chief labor negotiator.

Abercrombie, in comparison, has been shoving state money at the unions with three months of extra medical insurance payments, but he has only been able to get one union to agree. The Hawaii Government Employees Association signed, but even then one bargaining unit, the nurses, rejected the plan.

For Abercrombie, however, his biggest defeat in his first year has been the inability to grow or restore government.

He came into office making the promise that what he saw as a "crippled government" would restart, rebuild and restore government.

As it turned out, Abercrombie was handed a budget that gives him little room to expand government or its services.

Instead, Abercrombie’s future years will have him redefining state government, not rebuilding it.


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

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