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Real Need to Ask Questions

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By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 7/19/09)

Here in Hawaii it seems like the culture dictates how we react to issues and problems. Not wanting to offend, we usually acquiesce to someone’s position or opinion even though we don’t necessarily agree with the statement or position.

And it appears that has been a major contributor to the way government has grown over the years. Those who have wanted government to provide this or that service or some kind of new public facility have tended to be loud and vocal in their demands drowning out the pleas of taxpayers who have to foot the cost of many of these new and added services or facilities. It is not taxpayers who are afraid of offending as much as it is elected officials succumbing to the vocal shouts of those who demand more public spending. This is true at all levels of government as elected officials want voters to remember at election time that they “delivered” what their constituents demanded, be it a new playground or a stoplight at the corner.

The problem is that as each new demand is satisfied, it is costing the taxpayers more and more with each new building or each added program or service. Perhaps another major problem is that constituents have lost sight of the connection between what they, as taxpayers, shell out on a daily basis for taxes and fees and the programs or services provided by government. And when taxpayers complain about the plethora of taxes they are required to pay or some fee that they must pay in order secure some specific purpose, elected officials like to point out that they are paying for “essential” programs and services.

What elected officials do not point out is the myriad of programs and services that benefit specific constituencies. Some of these programs compete with other programs and services because they are funded through the general fund while others have their own dedicated funding sources. And this situation may have been overlooked in better economic and financial times, but with the slowing of the economy and the flow of tax dollars coming in spurts and sputters, every single dollar, if not every cent, begins to make a difference.

What taxpayers are quickly learning is that there is a direct connection between the tax dollars they hand over to state or county government and the amount it takes to run those governments’ operations. Faced with possible increases in the taxes they pay, taxpayers are beginning to wonder where the priorities are. The “sides” are becoming increasingly clear, is it business as usual for state and county governments at the expense of starving taxpayers, or is there a statesman like view that recognizes that everyone must bear the brunt of these bad economic times?

It is also becoming increasingly clear to taxpayers and voters that there is no common vision that will result in an improvement in the outlook for the state and the community. It is partisan politics as usual and readers can pick and choose who to blame, but that does not matter as the bickering is not helping the community move on and out of the financial mess.

As the new fiscal year begins, it is time to put differences aside and to work toward a common goal of getting the ship of state back on course and help heal an economy battered by a global and national recession. This will mean that elected officials must decide just how much government can afford to provide in the way of services and programs and how much must be encumbered by individuals as a personal responsibility. In setting priorities for limited tax dollars, elected officials will have to learn how to say “no” to the vocal minority that wants government to do this or that for them.

This will mean that we, as taxpayers and voters, will have to recognize that if higher and higher taxes are to be avoided in what is considered the highest per capita state and local tax burden in the nation, then taxpayers need to be equally as vocal about that tax burden. No more quiet acceptance of out-of-control spending, taxpayers and elected officials must question every single expenditure of those precious tax dollars. No more unnecessary spending that is nothing more than window-dressing.

Taxpayers and elected officials need to realize that the heavy burden of taxes and fees is killing off any kind of future for the state and its residents. Elected officials at all levels of government need to recognize that in order to improve the outlook for the state it means all of us paddling in the same direction.

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Kalapa’s commentary is printed each week in the Maui News, West Hawaii Today, Garden Isle News, and the HawaiiReporter.com.

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