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Making Sense of Legislation a Challenge

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

For those who don’t have the luxury of spending time with the state legislature, it is that time of the year to share some of the more “notable” proposals forwarded by your legislators.
Of course, the rage this year, as it has been for the past five years, is the mechanism to provide relief, comic or otherwise, called the tax credit. Lawmakers, for their lack of creativity, have come to regard the income tax credit as the panacea for all of the state’s problems. Just throw a tax credit out there and all the world will come to your door or at least that’s what lawmakers believe.
And there are some real gems. Lawmakers are hell-bent on improving the economy and creating jobs because that is what they think their constituents want. So they throw out a proposal that will give a business 10% off its income taxes if that business creates a new job and pays that person 30% or more above the state average wage. All the business would have to do is to have at least three employees to begin with and no lay offs or reductions in the number of jobs during the twelve months following the hire of the new employee. What a deal, you get 10% off your income taxes just for hiring a “highly paid employee.”
So what’s the big deal? Well, the bill gives the reader the impression that perhaps it’s aimed at helping small businesses with the requirement that the qualifying business must have at least three employees. Well, a large company like Macy’s has at least three employees. All that company would have to do is to bring in some highly paid vice president and they would qualify as long as they don’t lay anyone off in the next twelve months. They would be entitled to the 10% credit against what might be hundreds of thousands of dollars of income taxes. Give a few large companies like that the credit and sooner or later there will be no money from the net income tax on businesses.
Then it seems lawmakers feel guilty about having required taxpayers to either get a license or stay in businesses, so they give out tax credits to soften the blow of what they have just socked to taxpayers. Enter the tax credit for having taken a driver’s education course. Now that youth who younger than 18 years of age are required to take a driver’s education class in order to get their driver’s license, lawmakers want to give them a tax credit to help offset the cost of the tuition for the class. Perhaps lawmakers think they can stop the grousing about the costly education requirement if they give them a rebate on part or all of their tuition.
Then there is the tax credit that would rebate some portion of the cost of installing a grease trap. These grease traps are now required of all restaurants by either state or county law. So first they make restaurants put these contraptions in so that the grease doesn’t go into the sewers, now they come back and try to mitigate the pain of the cost with a tax credit. Seems like lawmakers just don’t want to take the heat for something that makes it more difficult to do business in the state, so they throw a tax credit at it. And sometimes lawmakers forget what they did in the past and try to correct the same problem a second time. Such is the case in the bill that would give a rebate on the cost of operating leases of aircraft equipment. This proposal comes a year after lawmakers decided to exempt the local airlines from the 4% general excise and use tax on their operating leases of aircraft and aircraft equipment. Oops! Maybe lawmakers really did want to subsidize the lease rent payments of the two local carriers. That’s all right, it is all green money anyway.
Now don’t sell those lawmakers short. After all they do everything possible to help businesses like with the credit to entice businesses to participate in an industry tracking program. If businesses do participate in this proposed program, they could claim a $25 per employee credit. What did you say, what does that have to do with making things better to do business in Hawaii? We don’t know, but that would be an easy way to pick up some pocket change.
So it is a credit here and credit there all the while lawmakers are bemoaning the fact that there isn’t enough money in the pot to fund everything they would like to fund. But what the heck, those tax credits represent nothing but free money.

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