HONOLULU - Seniors living on a fixed income were contrasted with lawmakers taking big pay raises in a debate between U.S. Senate hopefuls.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa was cheery as she delivered punchy jabs Tuesday night, as if enjoying the fight. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz looked miffed at times but retained a polite, even demeanor.
Hanabusa repeatedly accused Schatz of supporting a plan to tax Hawaii retirees' pensions when he served as lieutenant governor in 2011, a proposal that was opposed by AARP, the group that hosted the televised debate and advocates for retirees.
"I'm just curious: What were you thinking?" Hanabusa asked.
Schatz said he privately disagreed with the pension tax at the time.
"When I worked in the Abercrombie administration, when we had disagreements, they were in private," Schatz said. Now as senator he's in a different role, and when he disagrees with the governor or the president, he does so publicly, he said.
Both candidates said they oppose a federal tax on pensions.
At one point Hanabusa brought out props, including a photo she said was taken of Schatz supporting the pension tax proposal, sarcastically offering him a copy. Schatz didn't take the bait.
On the offensive, Schatz asked Hanabusa why she took a 36 percent pay raise when she was Hawaii Senate president and state workers were being furloughed. But Hanabusa said Schatz also took a pay raise.
"You were in the Legislature when we established that salary commission," Hanabusa said. "They set that and you voted for it. And when you became lieutenant governor, Brian, you took that pay raise."
"I didn't take a 36 percent pay raise; I was on the record saying it was a mistake," Schatz replied.
The candidates differed on whether they would push for more federal funding for the Honolulu commuter railway that's under construction.
Hanabusa said she wants the rail project to be completed, even if it means asking for more money.
"I'm probably the only member of Congress who knows what it's like to commute from the west side," Hanabusa said, alluding to Honolulu's legendary traffic.
Schatz said the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation needs to stay within its budget to build the commuter rail system.
"I don't think it's wise for us to talk about new revenue streams," Schatz said. "They've got to finish the job."
The candidates will face off again tonight in a televised debate on Hawaii News Now (Channels 8 and 9).