By Lowell L. Kalapa
Some readers asked recently what drives elected officials to introduce seemingly questionable legislation each year that more often than not does not make good common sense.
Readers need to remember that for many elected officials, it takes a lot of ego to run for office, so it comes as no surprise that many of them would like to return to their constituents with the claim that they solved the problems of the world or that they cared a lot about a burning issue so they passed “far reaching” legislation addressing that concern. In short, it is more commonly known as pandering.
In many cases pandering takes the form of appropriating money for this or that project and especially now with a brighter revenue outlook, the appropriation measures have filled the legislative hopper to overflowing. Unfortunately, this generation of lawmakers has yet to learn that just throwing money at a problem does not necessarily solve the problem. They also have yet to learn that dollars invested at the front end to prevent a problem from even occurring can be a lot more effective and a lot cheaper in the long run than dollars spent at the back end trying to treat the problem that could have been prevented.
Pandering can also take the form of spending through the back door with the use of “tax incentives” or tax credits which many elected officials argue isn’t money spent until the taxpayer does the jig that they want him to do and if the taxpayer does the jig, it is actually money put in the economy. Of course, lawmakers never stop to analyze the cost benefit, that is, does the investment on the part of the taxpayer outweigh the loss in tax revenue represented by the tax incentive? In fact, this point is stressed over and over by the most recent Tax Review Commission in its scathing criticism of the targeted business tax credits adopted in recent years.
But then again, tax credits and tax exemptions have been offered this year in the name of patriotism. After all how can one be against giving our fighting troops in the Middle East some sort of tax break? There are both administration and legislative proposals to exempt National Guard and armed forces reserve personnel from having to pay the state vehicle weight tax and the state vehicle registration fee. Never mind the fact that a vehicle driven by a National Guard person and a civilian put wear and tear on state roads at the same pace regardless of who is driving.
Then there is the tax credit that would reward employers who hire National Guard personnel with a tax credit equal to 5% of their compensation up $1,000 a year. Never mind the fact that not all National Guard personnel have been deployed overseas for longer than their annual 15 days of active duty.
Yet another credit would grant members of the National Guard and armed forces reserves a $100 military dependent tax credit. What the credit would help offset is not quite clear, nor does it seem that lawmakers have thought about National Guard members who may not have any dependents but may have family members, such as parents, who while the National Guard person cannot claim them as dependents may be just as reliant on his or her presence. Nor does the proposal distinguish between a taxpayer with one dependent or five dependents as it appears it is a tax credit of $100 per return. But goodness, lawmakers can say they cared about our fighting men and women in uniform.
And have readers heard about all those high-rise fires in Honolulu? Well, there is even a proposal to entice owners of high rises to install sprinkler systems equal to 5% of the cost to be claimed annually over a period of five years that would result in a government subsidy of such systems equal to 25% of the cost. Of course, this is nothing more than a more politically palatable alternative to mandating that these high rises retrofit their structures to install fire sprinkler systems.
Then there is the back door way to raise the salaries of police officers embodied in a measure that would exclude any and all compensation received by police officers as wages and salaries for their service as officers of the law. Never mind that these public employees use the same services you and I do, like public schools for our children, parks, public health care and so on. The exemption from income taxation puts more money back into their pockets as if they had a pay raise without going to the collective bargaining table.
And there are a plethora of targeted business tax credits that could fill another whole column. But the point of the matter is that while elected officials like to pander to specific constituencies, they lose sight of the fact that the bills still must be paid and it is the rest of us who are stuck paying the tab for government.