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Accountability Key to Good Government

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Accountability is that term we give to elected officials who stand up and admit that they were responsible for the decision they made.

In other words, elected officials who are honest enough to not only accept the praise for having made the right decision, but who are also willing to accept the rotten eggs for a wrong decision are said to be accountable.

Lately, there doesn’t seem to be much accountability as reflected in the cynical attitude voters have toward their government. That should not come as a surprise as it seems that there are daily examples of how elected officials think they can fool the average taxpayer.

Take for example the Honolulu City Administration’s attempt to fool taxpayers that their property taxes wouldn’t go up because property tax bills would be frozen at the same amount as they were last year. It took all of a blink of an eye for Honolulu residents to realize that “freezing” tax bills to the same level as last year was actually a tax increase over what they would have been paying because their property values went down.

The latest gambit coming from Honolulu City Hall is a proposal that businesses should pay a fee to have their garbage picked up. This reasoning is based on the logic that most of the larger businesses already pay private companies to haul their trash away, so why not charge all other businesses to have their garbage picked up. Of course, the elected officials don’t give a second thought to the fact that businesses already pay a much higher property tax rate than residential properties. Nor do elected city officials mention the fact that these are all the “smaller” businesses which don’t have the wherewithal to pay for private garbage services.

The fee approach to finding new resources to fund government operations has become almost symptomatic as tax revenues decline. But is it the only alternative elected officials have or is it a matter that elected officials don’t want to be held accountable for raising taxes but they like spending those dollars?

Indeed, levying new user charges or fees on certain taxpayers mitigates the complaint level to only those who are affected. This allows the elected official to avoid angering the masses of taxpayers who just might elect someone else the next time around. While no one likes higher taxes, if elected officials are not willing to cut the spending that demands those higher taxes, then they should tell the taxpayers that higher taxes are needed to run the government. If the taxpayers are not willing to pay those higher taxes, then cutting government spending is the only alternative.

Elected officials have avoided this choice by finding these alternative means of financing government operations. County officials are by no means the only ones playing this shell game. State officials are just as guilty. And while they may not think that raising user fees and charges will affect taxpayers, the result is only short-term gratification. As the heat turns up with more and more in-lieu taxes called user fees, in the long term, those elected officials are making Hawaii an even less desirable place to do business.

So while elected officials might be proud to announce they didn’t have to raise taxes to keep government running, that is hardly being accountable for what will eventually affect each and every one of us in the future as businesses close and move away from Hawaii.

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