Tax Hike Or Gambling, Not Both

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - January 21, 2009
state Rep. John Mizuno

There is a wonderful song, Everything Old Is New Again, in the wonderful movie All That Jazz. This may be the theme song for the upcoming legislative session. We already have witnessed a more palatable version of “Thumbs Up, Hawaii” return to the public domain. Now, there are rumblings in the state Senate that an increase in the General Excise Tax should be considered to alleviate our budget shortfall. Please check the calendar.

It sounds like 1998 ... again. The one issue sure to cause the hairs to stand up on your arms, however, is the time-honored, divisive debate about gambling. The sure-fire topics to rile up a group of two or more include fluoridation, red light cameras, abortion, gun control, paper or plastic, boxers or briefs and not too far behind is gambling. Gov. Linda Lingle recently said “Everything is on the table ...” in finding a solution to what fiscally ails us - even increasing taxes.

Oh, boy, it is 1998 all over again. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donna Mercado Kim says we should take a look at gambling as a revenue-generator. On the House side, Rep. John Mizuno believes gambling will be a boon to our economy. With everything on the table, I wonder if the governor meant everything would be on a poker table.

The issue is more complex than simply gambling-good, gambling-bad. Opponents will tell you there is an increase in crime, corruption, failed marriages, bankruptcies and suicides. Proponents cite the creation of jobs, generation of revenue, improvement in tourism and higher wages. A true cost-benefit analysis is obviously required, but the findings are usually embellished to support the position of the embellisher.

I am not an opponent of gambling. I enjoy a family game of Texas Hold ‘Em, and when I do go to Vegas, what I wager in Vegas stays in Vegas. That’s fine with me. Gambling is a form of entertainment. If I spend $100 at the blackjack table rather than buy a box seat to a ballgame, who cares? My opposition to gambling in Hawaii is steeped in something a bit more esoteric.

When gambling proposals were floated in the 1990s, I opposed them. Yes, there were the social implications, but my focus was on the state itself. I reasoned if the state were infused with millions of dollars of “new money,” the need for fundamental change would disappear.

In times of trial and tribulation, you need to create an entity that is leaner and more efficient. Less money compels one to make more-prudent financial decisions and do more with less.

But after years of observing our state, I see we are not prepared to change a thing. The state budget has grown every year. Spending has increased. Despite Lingle’s efforts and calls from select members of the state Legislature such as Sen. Sam Slom, the government (under Democrat domination) has continued to spend, spend and spend some more.

Why would state officials seriously consider legalized gambling in Hawaii? It’s all about the cashola, the cheese, the deniro, the buckeroos, the almighty dollar.

Political power is found in money. As an elected official, you have the people’s treasure at your disposal. The traditional Democratic Party constituency consists primarily of unionized labor and social service organizations.

How can you award higher pay raises or distribute cash to agencies if you’re broke?

States around the country have realized millions in gambling revenue. In some states, the guise of lotteries and gambling revenue strictly earmarked for education has been lifted. Regardless, the state is the prime benefactor of legalized gambling.

Let me throw it out there. If the state is hellbent on legalizing gambling, fine. But do so under one condition: The state must place a moratorium on all future tax and fee increases - period. No income tax increase, no GET increase, no Hanauma Bay fee increase - nothing. If not, no gambling for you.

It will be interesting to see how the Legislature reacts to our economic challenges. One thing is for certain. The Legislature is going to aggressively advance its agenda. There are only two GOP senators and six Republican representatives. Lingle can exercise her veto authority, but there are plenty of votes to override. Look for Democrats to do whatever they want. Based on the 2008 election results, they won’t feel any accountability for their actions.

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