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Insulting Voters Creates Distrust

posted in: Weekly Commentary 0
By Lowell L. Kalapa

     Someone asked the other week why there was such skepticism on the part of the community about the Economic Revitalization Task Force proposal to “reform” the tax system that it spurred various community groups to ask that they have input into the plan.

That response generated a request late in the legislative session that lawmakers put down their gavels and take a five-day recess. Of course, by that time things were just too far gone to stop and take time out and listen to the input of the community. While roundly criticized for rejecting the idea of the five-day recess, it is understandable given the lateness in the session calendar.

 

 

 
Throughout the odyssey of the Task Force and the legislative session, statements of fact were made to bolster the attempt to raise the GET. Unfortunately, the ‘facts’ were ever so subtlety altered to give the opposite impression.
       However, what is even more important to note is that there was a desire on the part of the community to have “input” into the plan because the community felt that it had been left out of the deliberations of the Task Force. Given that the leaders of the Task Force were elected officials, it is rather ironic that the “community” did not believe it had input in the deliberations of the Task Force. What that concern reflects is the fact that the community does not trust its elected officials to represent their best interests.

And that is a sad commentary on the way government operates in Hawaii. Supposedly, we live in a democracy, where we elect people to office who we trust to represent our best interests. These elected officials are supposed to do what the majority of the people who elect them to office want them to do. Yet based on the polls conducted both when the Task Force announced their proposals and in the waning days of the session, an overwhelming majority of the electorate did not support the general excise tax increase.

It certainly makes one wonder if we are living in a democracy or are we living under a dictatorship. After all, when legislative leaders and the head of the state go against the wishes of the people, it is certainly not representative of a democracy. It is even more disheartening when one considers how many times lawmakers have attempted to foist a general excise tax increase on the people of Hawaii. This last effort was the third attempt within this decade, the first time for mass transit in 1990, the second in 1995 in order to settle claims of the Hawaiian Homestead Commission, and this year for the purpose of “tax relief.” No wonder the people don’t trust their elected representatives.

Then there is the subtle bending of the truth. Throughout the odyssey of the Task Force and the legislative session, statements of fact were made to bolster the attempt to raise the general excise tax. Unfortunately, the “facts” were ever so subtlety altered to give the opposite impression. For example, at a meeting before the Maui Contractors, one DBEDT economist pointed out that Hawaii’s 4% general excise tax compared very favorably with the sales tax rates found in other jurisdictions on the mainland. No mention was made that the general excise tax is not a sales tax. Or for that matter, if Hawaii had a sales tax structure like those found on the mainland, it would need a double digit rate in order to generate the same amount of revenue as the current 4% general excise tax.

Then there is the boasting of the fact that the Task Force proposal to cut personal income taxes and subsequently the one approved by the legislature was the largest tax cut in the history of Hawaii. Of course those cheerleaders failed to mention that Hawaii taxpayers have never had a true tax reduction in the 39-year history of the state. So, of course, this tax reduction is the “largest” because it is the only time taxes have been reduced thanks so those who have run the state for the last 35 years.

No wonder voters remain cynical about their government. With the smoke and mirrors that elected officials have used over the years, there is little that voters can trust in their elected officials. Putting the same people back in office can only continue the “great tradition” of distrust.

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