In a new sign of strains between state senators and Gov. David Ige’s administration, interim state Tax Director Rona Suzuki said today she has asked Ige to withdraw her name from consideration after learning the Senate Ways and Means Committee planned to recommend that she not be confirmed to the permanent post.
Ige announced last July he had appointed Suzuki as interim director of the state Department of Taxation, replacing Linda Chu Takayama, who was named Ige’s chief of staff on Aug. 1. Suzuki’s position as tax director requires Senate confirmation.
Suzuki previously served as a senior executive assistant at the tax department, where she managed the modernization of the department’s computer systems.
She also served as the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ executive director of the Office of Community Services, which oversees grant programs for low-income residents, immigrants and refugees, as well as social service agencies.
Suzuki recounted some of her government service and accomplishments in a brief presentation before the Ways and Means Committee this morning.
“I was prepared to work with the department staff, practitioners and legislators to the completion of Gov. Ige’s term to leverage our technology and data to increase taxpayer compliance and collections to build a high-performing tax unit,” she said. “However, I’ve been informed that your committee will not support my appointment, and thus I asked Gov. Ige to withdraw my nomination as director if taxation.”
Suzuki thanked the department’s staff for their efforts both before and during the coronavirus pandemic, and said she is “sorry that we will not be able to work together to achieve our vision.” She also thanked her colleagues in the cabinet.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz then adjourned the hearing briefly, and resumed the hearings to explain that “based on the nominee’s statement of her decision to withdraw from being nominated to the Department of Taxation as director, we expect a formal letter from the governor forthcoming. Therefore, we’re going to adjourn.”
“OK, then,” one female senator said with a laugh before the microphones were shut off.
Several members of the committee also serve on the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19, which has been scrutinizing the Ige administration’s response to the pandemic. Last month Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism Director Mike McCartney refused to testify before the special committee, and said he planned to file a complaint with Senate leadership.
“Please know I am (and the entire DBEDT Ohana) are ready, fully committed and eager to participate in the policy making process — such as hearings — but only when I (as the Director) can be assured that DBEDT employees will no longer be subjected to bullied, harassment, intimidation and threats which have created a hostile work environment,” McCartney said in an email to Senate President Ron Kouchi.
McCartney also refused to allow his staff to participate during a May 21 during a joint hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism.