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Zapping the Taxpayer, Lawmakers at Work

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

The legislative arena makes for good, cheap entertainment as lawmakers, lobbyists, and administration officials go through the motions of democracy at work. This week we wanted to share a phalanx of incidents which are indicative of how our lawmakers seem to have not gotten the message.

A measure was introduced by the state consumer protector would duplicate the disclosure requirements for automobile leasing that are current enforced under federal regulations. While a mirror duplication may not seem all that odd, the problem is that the proposal would not only impose more stringent requirements, but it would impose standards that are different from federal law. As on observer put it, the state proposal merely adds one more layer of bureaucracy that will not only impose hardships on the business, but it will also add to the confusion of the taxpayer.

It is rather curious that a state agency would make things so difficult and confusing by adding not only additional requirements but standards that are different from the federal criteria. One observer cynically opined that perhaps this was a measure to justify the existence of the consumer protector. Thus, rather than reducing the burden of regulation, lawmakers are just adding one more cost to doing business in this state.

Another measure that proposes to increase the advance deposit fee on glass containers now slaps a mandate on all property owners and managers that prohibits the owners from stopping retailers of products in glass containers from putting up recycling facilities or bins on the owner’s property. Although retailers argue that they need a place to store glass containers they accept for recycling, the real question is whether the government should be in the business of telling property owners what they can or cannot do with their property.

Another measure proposed by the department of health would allow health officials to dip into a special fund that was established as a rainy day fund for cleaning up oil spills so that they can clean up non-oil based hazardous waste spills. While it may sound like an environmentally right thing to do, from a public finance perspective, it is a violation of good public finance policy and an indirect hit on taxpayers.

Under the legislation which established the environmental response fund, a “barrel tax” of 5 cents per barrel is imposed on every barrel of petroleum products imported into the state. The collection of that tax was designated as a savings account to be used whenever an oil spill occurred in the waters surrounding the islands for which no culprit could be determined. Because lawmakers didn’t want the fund to build up to some obscene size, they put a $7 million cap on the fund. Once the fund reached that amount the 5-cent tax would cease to be imposed. However, if the balance falls below $3 million, the tax could be reinstituted.

Thus, not only is the proposed use of the fund for the clean-up of non-petroleum hazardous spills illegal as the fund is supposed to be used only for oil based spills, but by allowing the department of health to dip into the fund for non-related uses insures that the fund will never reach the $7 million ceiling and the tax will never be lifted. It seems that the health department has found a a new way to make sure that we taxpayers continue to pay.

Just when you though that public officials got the message that taxpayers are tired of paying for government’s excessive tax and spending attitudes, we have examples like these to remind us that we must continue to remind our elected officials that we are watching what they are doing.

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