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How Well Did Your Legislator Do?

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

This year’s primary election is but a few weeks away and election officials tell us that the number of registered voters is at an all time low. Regardless of the reason why people have not registered to vote, it becomes even more imperative that those of you who are registered to vote turn out on election day to vote. As we have learned in recent elections, every vote does count and can make the difference between one or another candidate winning the race. People have voiced their frustration that it doesn’t make any difference whether or not they vote, because “the same guys get back in.” With that attitude, then the observation surely will be a reality.
That is not to say that incumbents don’t deserve another term in office. On the other hand, it is incumbents who have a track record by which voters can judge whether or not they represented the wants, needs and desires of their constituents. And certainly, one of the issues that voters agreed upon is that they did not want their taxes increased.
Most, if not all, incumbents will claim that they didn’t increase taxes during the term they just completed, but will those incumbents be honest about the fact that there were other ways the cost of living was increased for taxpayers albeit these mechanisms aren’t called “taxes.” For example, the motor vehicle “registration fee” will go up by $5 beginning this October. In other words, it will cost all automobile owners five more dollars this year than last year to register their vehicles. This is the fee increase that is supposed to fund emergency medical services.
Then there is the new 66 cents per month surcharge for all cellular telephone owners to pay for the enhanced “911” service which will allow emergency personnel to locate the user of a cellular phone. And certainly while it is called a “fee,” a fee imposed by government with no choice or option to pay is nothing more than a tax.
Then there is the infamous “bottle deposit” fee which will kick in just before the November election.
Adopted with a disdain for those who opposed the proposal, the new nickel per beverage container is nothing more than a tax even though it may be refundable if the beverage container is returned. Because stores everywhere will have to encumber the cost of collecting and refunding the deposit fee, as well as clean and store the beverage containers, the increased cost for that store in order to do business will be passed on to all customers.
And while lawmakers made sure that the nickel deposit fee would not be taxable to the store owner, no exemption or exclusion was provided for the hidden penny or penny and a half per container advanced disposal fee paid by distributors of those beverages. It is estimated that this penny or so per beverage container will amount to more than $8 million annually. There is no economic gain to the distributor for this fee which will probably be built into the cost of the beverage; however, in earning the money to pay the advanced disposal fee, the distributor will have to count that as income subject to both the 4% general excise tax and the net income tax. And that cost will be passed on to all consumers of those beverages.
And don’t forget those tax credits that lawmakers approved in the past two years for specific taxpayers. Tax credits? Aren’t tax credits good things? Don’t they mean taxpayers pay less taxes?
True, tax credits are reductions of taxes paid, but only for the favored taxpayer. The consequence is that while the favored taxpayer is able to reduce his or her tax bill, the cost of government still looms large and must be paid for by all other taxpayers. The result is that taxes have to remain high for everybody else.
So while elected officials might want to point to tax credits and other tax breaks for selected taxpayers, the rest of us have to continue to labor under a heavy burden of taxes. Again, without a concurrent reduction in spending, such tax breaks merely mean that the burden of taxes is shifted to all other taxpayers. While not a tax increase per se, but a lost opportunity to reduce taxes for all taxpayers.
So for those of you who are registered to vote, take some time to study the track record of incumbents and carefully question the “wannabes” on what they will do for you to improve the quality of life in Hawaii and to make Hawaii a more affordable place to live.

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