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Freedom of Expression Often Stifled in Hawaii

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

An interesting facet of life here in Hawaii seems to have manifest as a result of the fervor to convince the public that the results of the Economic Revitalization Task Force are the best thing in town since sliced bread. There is truly a fear of raising a question or a voice in opposition to the recommendations.

     Observers have long opined that the culture in Hawaii works against stepping out of line, of questioning authority, of voicing dissent. Businesses speak in quiet hushes of how dangerous it would be to question a governmental agency or a public policy or governmental official because there may be retaliation.

     On the flip side of that observation is that often, onlookers admit that while one position is being made, in the end the opposite action is taken. This is because no one wants to offend and therefore people tend not to be honest about their opposition or disagreement with what is being said. The result is mixed signals about an issue.

     Apparently this is the problem with recommendations of the Economic Revitalization Task Force. The few voices of concern that have been raised in the town meetings are but the tip of the iceberg of discontent because too few people are willing to voice their opposition because of the fear of reprisal. On the other hand, many have quietly voiced their dissatisfaction with the fact that taxes have to be raised in order to “jump-start” the economy.

     Those who would like us to believe this is a bold step forward fail to recognize thehypocrisy of lowering income taxes only to make up the revenues with a hike in the general excise tax. Although this shell game is being sold on the premise that this will shift the burden to nonresidents such as visitors, anyone reading the papers knows the visitor count continues to decline. Thus, if visitors don’t come to Hawaii or don’t spend as much because prices are too high, who then will pay the tax burden?

     If the problem is that the state cannot afford to lose that much in revenue because elected officials are not willing to really cut state spending for political or whatever reason, then they should be honest with taxpayers and perhaps not lower income taxes as much as they propose. This would place the issue of tax reductions and spending reductions squarely in the face of the voter. If voters want all the services they are being told they need, then they can’t enjoy substantial tax reductions.

     For business leaders who are afraid that if the Task Force recommendations are not implemented the economy will continue to fail, they ought to ask themselves whether or not this package of so-called tax cuts will be sufficient to make the economy turn around or are these cuts purely cosmetic? In the rush to support this package are proponents blinding themselves to the political and economic reality that the public is not willing to accept any increase in taxes?

     Someone recently commented that: “It is not the decisions that were made that is tearing the community apart as much as it is the process by which those decisions were made.” The comment seems quite appropriate in light of how the Task Force recommendations appear to be literally shoved down the throats of the public with very little room for discussion and dissent. Those supporters need to recognize that if economic revitalization is to occur there must be support and buy-in from the community at large. That support cannot be garnered from merely telling the public what is good for them, like it or not.

     There is no doubt that nearly every person in the state would like to see this economy turn around, but few are willing to raise taxes to get there. Being honest about why taxes continue to remain so high seems to be an appropriate starting point for discussion. Let’s hope that discussion is allowed to happen. After all, that’s what a democracy is all about, full and free discussion of the issues!

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