Piling On The Taxpayer Burden

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 23, 2005
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A couple of months ago I wrote about one of the state of Hawaii’s most brilliant revenue-generating efforts in a long time — The Bottle Bill. It was backed by environmental groups and hailed as a needed measure to cut down on littering and the support needed for a robust recycling of resources like glass and plastic. It was not supported whole-heartedly by small-business leaders because it would add to the cost of doing business in Hawaii.

Since the bill passed, to no one’s surprise, many people are not turning in their bottles to collect the 5-cent reimbursement from the state. So the state has millions of dollars in unclaimed monies stashed away in a special fund. No one is sure or is willing say how many millions are in the fund. It’s a special fund waiting to be raided.

The flood gates have opened with creative revenue- generating ideas, like the “Rail Transit Tax.” If it is signed into law by the governor, it will be the biggest tax increase in Hawaii’s history. The .5 percent increase in the general excise tax will create enough money to fund a mass rail system on Oahu, even though they don’t know the route it will take, how much it will cost and what mode of transportation it will provide for how many people. To add drama to the consequences of the measure, the money they collect is supposed to go into (yes, you’ve got it) a special fund.

A key feature of this tax increase is the tax money will be collected before planning or construction begins, so it will sit in a special fund collecting interest. Who gets the interest no one will say for sure.

As if it was a movement in a concert, the city announced it was $3 billion in the red and the sewer system was in desperate need of repair. Almost on cue, water mains began exploding all over town to underscore the seriousness of the problem. Immediately, a whopper of an increase was announced to fix the sewers, which would occur every year until the sewer system was like new.

Next came the increase in the vehicle weight tax. This tax was warranted because the road repair schedule had been disregarded by the former administration for years, and the potholes had to be fixed quickly so the motoring public would stop calling the new mayor’s radio show. So the heavier your automobile or truck, the bigger share of the problem you will assume every time you re-register your vehicle.

And since the former mayor’s departure book did not sell, the taxpayers have to pick up that tab, too.

If all this wasn’t so expensive, it would make a fine Broadway comedy. The problem is, all these increases are beginning to add up and hurt the morale of the taxpayers.

This is not a mistake. This was planned right down to the timing of the public announcements. It was all Harvard-like, very reasoned tones of voice and a gentle shrug of the shoulders. You get the feeling that none of our councilmembers was around for the last four years. They looked so shocked and hurt at the news, as if they had been living on another planet for the last four years and all the bad fiscal news was a total surprise.

My theory is that our elected leaders have found a way to not allow the cost of living in Hawaii to affect their conscience. It seems they conduct a secret media poll and use the results of the poll as a kind of sedative to calm the public’s concerns. Do you remember the last couple of polls? They asked a segment of the public if they were willing to pay higher taxes to fix traffic congestion. The poll was supposed to have found that the public was willing to pay more taxes for better roads and less traffic congestion.

Instead of taking these self-serving polls of unknown segments of the population, it would make it easier for the taxpayers if they passed a law that says every bill that is put into law has to have a name attached to it, and not just a number. We need to know who proposed the legislation so the public will know whom to attack, like the Taft-Hartley Bill.

Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to convince our elected officials that raising taxes, fees and fines appears to have reached epidemic proportions, and they need medication to slow their tendency to overspend and overtax the defenseless public.

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