Taking Taxpayers For A Ride

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 23, 2008
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Lucky for us, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt came up with a great idea: Have taxes deducted from citizens’ payrolls. That way the government would be more stable and budget forecasts would allow future politicians to spend more money serving the public.

Politicians like to promise things to motivate the public to action. The whole process of manipulating the public has become an art form. Some would argue quite convincingly that it is a political science. Asking the public what they think is a valuable tool - especially if the people you coopt are the ones who are going to complete a task or do volunteer work for you.

The rail system is funded with taxpayer money - a tax paid only by the residents of the City and County of Honolulu. The Honolulu 0.5 percent surcharge tax became effective Jan. 1, 2007. The state then disburses the Honolulu County surcharge taxes quarterly, after first deducting 10 percent, which is retained in the general fund for administrative costs of collecting the surcharge. The fund already has collected millions of dollars just sitting there waiting to be spent.

Along comes the Stop Rail Now Coalition with a plan to derail the project. It ran into a predictable problem. City Clerk Denise De Costa has said the issue of the planned multibil-lion-dollar transit system cannot appear on the November ballot. The announcement outraged the Stop Rail Now group, which is still collecting signatures on a petition to put the issue before general election voters. The city elections administrator says the petition being circulated specifically calls for a special election, which can’t be held in conjunction with a general election, but the attorney of Stop Rail Now says the city officials are misinterpreting the law. He says the City Charter actually mandates that the initiative proposal should be put to voters during the general election, not a separately scheduled special election.

All of this does nothing but damage the public’s confidence that anyone in this process knows what’s going on.

One would have to be really naive to believe that if the proposition was put on the general election ballot that the general public would vote it down. The reason is simple. The mass transit would boost the economy of the state for years to come, both in jobs and a enhanced global image.

There is nothing wrong, really, with asking the public for their opinion - or help, for that matter. Besides, it’s good for the public morale. It at least creates the illusion that our elected officials want to know what we think before they make important decisions.

If Hawaii would benefit from one simple improvement, it would be for people to become more involved in what’s going on in the state.

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