Taxing Questions For Candidates

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 07, 2006
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It’s coming.

If this were a film, you be hearing the theme from Jaws about now.

But in this scene instead of a giant great white thrusting out of the ocean to devour an unsuspecting soul, it’s a mailbox full of campaign mailers attacking your hand - and your psyche.

It’s hard to believe election season’s here again. (Didn’t the Mufi and Duke signs just go down?) Candidates are announced and likely are madly strategizing on how to convince us to pick them for the myriad of elective offices.

What are the issues to which candidates will attach themselves? What do they want us to know about them? How will they convince us to elect them?

Their campaign ads will shower us with their answers.

But the better question is: What will we demand from them in exchange for our vote? Believe me, my vote is expensive and demanding.

First off, most of us aren’t paying attention to what goes on at the state Legislature and in City Council meetings because we’re busy, and it takes time to research the legislation (worded in confusing legal language), attend hearings and write for information.

So for starters, a good question to ask candidates is: What robs us of the time to stay fully informed about the laws that impact our lives? Then ask: Why don’t we have time to spend with our families? Then: Why don’t we have the money to maintain a decent lifestyle? And: Why don’t our working poor ever get ahead?

All these questions point to one thing, the high cost of living, and beg more questions: Why is the cost of living so high? The answer is high taxes. And why are our taxes so high? To maintain the voracious government appetite that needs continuous feeding. But unlike Jaws, this predator doesn’t burst through the water’s surface taking one devastating chomp. It’s more of a bottom feeder, below the surface, stealthy, taking a little bite here, a little there.

Jason A. Levitis and Nicholas Johnson from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in their May 4 report, “The Impact of Hawaii’s Income Tax on Low-Income Families: an Update,” write, “according to earlier ‘06 findings that in tax year 2005 Hawaii was one of the states with the very highest income taxes on families with poverty-level earnings.” And that “of the 42 states with income taxes, Hawaii in 2005 imposed the second-highest income tax in the nation on one-parent families of three with income at the federal poverty line.”

Hawaii citizens rank as the fifth most heavily taxed among those in 50 states. And according to the Tax Foundation (, eighth in the nation taxed on sales, gasoline (32 cents per gallon), cigarettes and alcohol, and eighth in total taxes per capita. At the same time, Hawaii receives a high amount of federal dollars (eighth nationally), much more than Hawaii citizens and businesses send back to Washington. (In other words, we burden the rest of the country.)

While our property taxes are among the lowest nationwide, the cost of homes is at the top. And, for the working poor, home ownership is a distant dream.

But among the many taxes tucked into our phone, cable, utilities, gasoline and licenses, by far the most onerous of all is our General Excise Tax (GET). That 4 percent (due to be raised to fund a rail system) is imposed on everything we buy, wholesale and retail. We also pay it on food and medicine, hurting those earning low wages and fixed income residents the most. No wonder we’re stressed out in paradise.

In their mailers our incumbent politicians will brag about all they’ve done for us. But when they come to my door, I’ll ask: Why, with all the taxes we pay, do we have a homeless problem? Why do our schools rank low, but get more money than most in the nation? Why do we have so little to show for the sacrifices we make as taxpayers? If they don’t answer high taxes, my vote goes elsewhere.

I’ll vote for the candidate with a mailer that shows every way we are taxed and every dollar spent (audited by an independent accountant). That mailer would eat all the other dishonest ones in our mailboxes.

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