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How About Honest Productivity and Efficiency in Government?

posted in: Weekly Commentary 0
By Lowell L. Kalapa

Recent news reports about the state not having the funds to make needed improvements should be disturbing for taxpayers across the state.
What is disturbing is the fact that the cost for these improvements is being shifted to private businesses and taxpayers. In the case of a planned subdivision in central Oahu the developer is being told that the subdivision will not be approved unless the developer puts in the school necessary to serve the kids in the new subdivision.
This would mean that the developer would have to build a school to serve those children even after donating the land and infrastructure to serve that school. But wait, don’t our tax dollars, the ones we pay in income taxes and general excise taxes, build schools and other public facilities?
Some argue that if someone wants to develop new homes which means there will be an impact on traffic, schools, water, etc., then the developer should pay. But wait, isn’t there also a shortage of affordable housing that elected officials and the public bemoan? To that, critics argue that many of these new developments are usually not affordable housing.
While that may be true, in some cases, the very fact that the inventory of housing is increased with each new development means that those who are trading up are vacating what should be more affordable housing. Thus, encouraging development of any kind of housing helps the availability of housing period. What doesn’t help is when government doesn’t do its part in providing the necessary facilities that serve the community. In this case it is school facilities.
If the developer has to build the school as part of the development agreement, then the cost of that school will have to be included in the cost of every unit built in the subdivision. That cost will ultimately be paid by the families who purchase those homes. They are also the same families who continue to pay income and general excise taxes that should be used to build schools throughout the state. Thus, those families will be paying twice for public schools, once in the pricetag of their new home and again in the taxes they pay.
A similar challenge has been posed for the developers and land owners of Honolulu’s Second City. Because the state is so far behind in building the necessary highway interchanges and roads to serve the Second City, the private partners have agreed to pick up the state’s share in addition to what they have already paid for those roads. The excuse on behalf of the state is that they just don’t have the funds to undertake these projects.
As a result, the developers of the housing that will go up there estimate that this will add another thousand dollars or more to each unit built out on the western plain. The extra thousand dollars will have to be paid by every buyer of a new home in the Second City. But wait, isn’t the state’s gas tax supposed to pay for projects like roads and highway interchanges? And will all those potential users of the roads and interchanges buying their tanks of gas to commute to Honolulu be paying twice for that road?
Why is it that the state doesn’t have the resources to undertake projects and facilities that are vital to the growth and vitality of our community? Without schools and roads, the economy cannot grow. Even in the past session when the construction industry pursued all sorts of tax credits to spur construction activity, did anyone ask how that new construction was going to be supported with public infrastructure?
So on one hand, lawmakers are only too eager to provide incentives to spur construction while on the other hand no one is holding public agencies accountable for providing the public infrastructure that is needed to support all the new construction.
Finally, one last observation: The recent arrests of public officials who allegedly gave out non-bid contracts to acquaintances in return for kick backs raise the question of accountability in the public sector. Just as much as investors are up in arms about the recent scandals in corporate accounting, taxpayers should also be up in arms if indeed public tax dollars are being used for someone’s private benefit.
Unfortunately, these recent arrests raise the question of honesty and integrity in government. If taxpayer dollars are being used fraudulently, then we, as taxpayers, are paying a hefty price for government in Hawaii. In some cases some taxpayers will end up paying twice for something that should have been paid with public tax dollars.

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