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Putting Ego Before the Will of the People

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Readers should have been at the hearing on the proposal to give the counties the option to raise the general excise tax rate to fund transportation systems.
Despite numerous witnesses testifying against the idea of raising taxes, what it all came down to in the end was that lawmakers need to pass the bill to save our congressional delegation from being embarrassed. It became abundantly clear that it was more important to insure that the delegation did not request federal funding only to have the state/local government fail to come up with its share.
In fact, lawmakers were told that the request would not be made if the legislation to raise the general excise tax is not adopted. Despite protests against the tax increase and the point that there is literally no plan on the table as to what the transit system will look like, or for that matter how much it will cost, lawmakers were given a “put up or shut up” message from the congressional delegation.
No one seemed to care that the raising of the general excise tax rate will increase the cost of living in Hawaii to even higher plateaus or the fact that what is already a difficult and expensive place to do business will get even more difficult. Nor did lawmakers seem to care that those who will be most affected will be the poor, the very segment of our community that lawmakers profess to want to help.
Perhaps it was because the chair of the committee was from the Big Island that she felt the increase in the general excise tax rate wouldn’t affect her constituents. Little does she and her colleagues realize that nearly all of the goods and services that we consume in Hawaii come through Honolulu. Whether or not those goods and services only pass through Honolulu’s docks or airports, they all will be affected by the increase in the general excise tax rate. From the warehousing to the transportation to the office rents to the window cleaner or the gardener, all prices will go up because of the added general excise tax burden incurred by these providers of goods and services no matter where they are purchased or consumed.
And did lawmakers ask themselves just what a hike in the cost of living and doing business in the state will do to the economic outlook of the state? Advocates of the transit idea argue that it is a matter of quality of life, but as those in attendance learned that day, a rail transit may not be the appropriate solution to Oahu’s traffic gridlock.
So are lawmakers passing a measure to give the counties the option to raise the general excise tax to solve the traffic problems of Honolulu or are they passing a bill to save our congressional delegation embarrassment? One thing for sure is that they don’t seem to be interested in listening to taxpayers. Nor do elected officials seem to be interested in knowing what they are buying.
With no specific plan on the table, lawmakers are buying the proverbial pig in a poke. They are asking taxpayers to cough up more tax dollars for something that doesn’t even have an artist’s rendering let alone the type of technology or the path it will take. By asking taxpayers to pay even more in taxes and, therefore how much it costs to survive in Hawaii, lawmakers are abstaining from the duty that they were elected to do, that is, to set priorities for the precious tax dollars taxpayers are forced to pay for state and county government.
By raising taxes to solve Oahu’s traffic gridlock, they have pronounced that problem to be of a low priority because they have to raise new taxes as opposed to taking it out of what we already pay. It wouldn’t be so bad if Hawaii did not already impose one of the heaviest tax burdens in the nation, that, in fact, the state and county governments didn’t take as much as they do. But taxpayers know that is not the case, as they have watched lawmakers take more and more each year in new taxes and fees to keep government afloat.
With a legislature that is not willing to study the issues and search for alternatives to problems and a congressional delegation that doesn’t want to be embarrassed because they may have to withdraw a request for funding, one has to wonder who these elected officials represent because obviously they are not listening to the taxpayers. So the bill to give the counties the option to raise the tax will pass and the congressional delegation will take the credit for bringing the “bacon” home, and the state legislature will take the credit for “solving” Oahu’s traffic gridlock, and the county council will have to adopt the tax because they wouldn’t want to embarrass the congressional delegation. And the taxpayer? What do you think?

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