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Acting in the Interest of the People

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

As legislators turned out the lights and patted themselves on the back for having done the “work of the people,” some taxpayers began to wonder whether or not the legislature acted in the interest of the people.

One lady from Kaka’ako noted that the public really shouldn’t expect a lot from the legislature “for after all, lawmakers are just ordinary people.” While that evaluation may be correct, it is not that the voters expect Herculean feats from lawmakers as much as they expect things to get done and pressing problems to be addressed. It would seem that lawmakers made a choice to run for office. If they can’t do the job, then they should get out.

Certainly lawmakers will preen their feathers and point to the accomplishments of the session including same sex marriage (which they will leave up to the voters in the 1998 election), no-fault insurance reform (which some say is worse than what we have currently), and “high three” retirement benefits for elected officials (which was delayed long enough to let the horses out of the barn before they closed the door). But did lawmakers address the most critical issue of the taxpayer’s pocketbook?

Although lawmakers will decry the cuts in the state budget they had to make because tax revenues didn’t materialize as projected, will they also point out that they approved substantial pay increases for public employees? And what about those state tax revenues? While lawmakers can proudly say they did not raise taxes (other than the cigarette tax which is probably viewed as being politically correct), will they admit that they approved a number of new fees and user charges to keep government growing?

On the “supply side” what did lawmakers do to improve the outlook for workers and for the businesses that provide the jobs that workers need? No doubt they will point to the fact that they approved the administration’s “billion dollar construction program” but will they admit that the money appropriated for the program probably won’t hit the streets for another three to five years? And what about all the private companies that do business on contract with the state and county governments? What will lawmakers say when those who provide those services lose their jobs?

Perhaps the most critical issue that concerns all taxpayers is the economy. And once more it appears that lawmakers have dropped the ball. Like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, lawmakers seem to freeze when it comes to finding ways to improve the economic and business climate in Hawaii. Sure they will point to the additional $10 million appropriated for the Hawaii Visitors’ and Convention Bureau, but will they point out how many strings they attached directing how the money is to be spent? The will beam with pride when talking about how they will bring Continental Airlines’ maintenance facilities to Hawaii, but will they tell constituents about the “tax breaks” they gave to the company?

Indeed, it seems that lawmakers left the most important piece of work on the cutting room floor, the economy. Aside from the measure that addresses the pyramiding of the general excise tax on leases and subleases, few of the other so-called economic development initiatives will benefit the overall condition of the state’s economy. So what if an airline opens a maintenance facility here or hotels renovate sooner than later because of the tax credit or motion picture makers film in Hawaii? Taxpayers in Hawaii, both businesses and families, continue to labor under the most draconian tax system, not to mention the new tax of the Nineties, the user fee.

When will lawmakers and administrators understand that the tax and business environment has to be made better for everyone and not for the “chosen” few if Hawaii is to come out of this economic slump? Did lawmakers act in the interest of the people during the 1997 session? You be the judge as you check out the condition of your personal checkbook.

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