By Lowell L. Kalapa
If you could push your ear up against one of the Capitol building walls, you could almost hear the chatter of lawmakers and lobbyists discussing some of the most amazing things, not the least of which is the possibility that taxes might have to be increased this year.
What, you say, lawmakers are thinking of raising taxes? Well, the spate of discussions were spurred by last year’s end of session demise of a proposal to give the counties the power to levy a county sales tax. Senate lawmakers held a couple of hearings during the interim on a bill to do just that. Of course, county officials were eager to support the idea.
Then late last year the Governor indicated that in order to build a light rail system for Honolulu, a tax increase might be necessary. This added even more fuel to the legislative fervor to consider a tax increase. Some lawmakers even oblige that an increase in taxes would go toward education even though spending on all education programs from kindergarten through university accounts for over 50% of the current general fund budget. Others propose that the added funds be used to upgrade the state’s correctional facilities which could possibly be in jeopardy of violating federal law.
But wait a minute! Has anyone asked how well the dollars that taxpayers already give government are being spent? Has anyone pointed out that Hawaii taxpayers already give a lot of money to their state and local governments? Hawaii taxpayers pay more per capita than 90% of their colleagues throughout the nation. And lawmakers still want more?
What happened to all those campaign promises about streamlining government and making it more efficient and responsive to make our tax dollars stretch farther? It would be much more appropriate for lawmakers and administrative officials to stop and assess how well those tax dollars are being spent and ask if there is a better way to deliver those services or programs. Is there an approach to delivering the same quality of services with less dollars?
For example, the state payroll system is still largely reliant on paper and hand entries. Mileage reimbursement reports must still be filled out in long hand and teachers still must fill out paper purchase orders to buy materials for their classrooms. Children who are receiving assistance from the state often are given the same immunization two or three times because the various state reporting systems are not coordinated.
The computer has been around for more than half a century, and personal computers for more than twenty years. One would think that government in Hawaii, a government that has touted the importance of high technology, would itself have been computerized long before this.
One has to wonder just what sort of cost savings could be realized if the state and county initiated a massive program to move all of the data and the gathering of that data to an electronic format. Think of all the room it would save in state facilities with the elimination of paper copies stored in row after row of filing cabinets. And what if teachers could be given a state debit card so that they could run down to the local office supply store and get the materials they need for their classroom?
Kids in various state programs could carry a plastic identification card on a lanyard which would contain all of his or her medical information including the types of immunizations that have been administered in the past year. The public health nurses visiting the various schools to check on these kids could record their mileage on a PDA and submit it through their computer when they return to their offices.
The point of the matter is that until state and county governments take a look at how current tax dollars are being spent, it is premature to ask taxpayers to cough up even more tax dollars. Hawaii residents already bear one of the heaviest tax burdens per capita in the nation. So one would think that there should be more than enough tax dollars to pay for the services we receive.
So it should follow that with that kind of income, Hawaii residents should be getting the very best of services. Obviously, according to lawmakers, we are not getting the best of services, but in order to get better services we will be asked to pay even more.
Are you willing to pay more? Watch out for that tax increase!