Sunday, December 20, 2009

 

Council on Revenues should make tax increase estimate


by Larry Geller

Well, somebody should estimate how much revenue could be raised through various options including raising certain taxes. Hawaii is being devastated by administration budget cuts that wipe out essential services, yet neither our daily papers nor our state administration are willing to suggest that raising revenues might be a great idea.

We are letting the Lingle administration dictate cuts that have turned out to be damaging and unwise.

Hawaii is far from alone in cutting the size of government during the global economic downturn, with nearly every state resorting to across-the-board cuts, furloughs or layoffs to make ends meet. This state of 1.3 million residents faces a projected $1 billion budget deficit through June 2011.

But Hawaii stands apart in how its government response has been to reduce what are generally considered to be core functions: education, public health, elections and services for the disadvantaged. [NY Times, In Hawaii, Cuts Reach to Core Functions, 12/20/2009]

Why not charge the Council on Revenues with the task of estimating revenue that could be produced by various tax options? Their function is established by statute, so perhaps the enabling law needs to be changed.

The consequences of letting Governor Linda Lingle slash and burn will be as AP reporter Mark Niesse wrote in the NY Times article:

Hawaii’s money troubles are creating a society more befitting a tropical backwater than a state celebrating its 50th anniversary and preparing to welcome President Obama home for Christmas this week.

Linda Lingle, ideologically a Grover Norquist Republican, won’t discuss anything but cutting back core services.

Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, warned that the state government would not look the same after she ordered most departments to cut their budgets by about 14 percent.

It wasn’t 14 percent for the Office of Elections. According to their own statements, including at a recent Election Commission hearing, their budget was slashed 94% and so mounting an election of any kind became an impossibility.

It wasn’t 14% for the agricultural inspectors. 52 of 112 positions were to be eliminated, or 54 percent of the state's agricultural inspectors. On Maui 17 of 28 would be cut, and of the remaining 11, six must stay at the airport. The Big Island produces 80% of the state’s agricultural exports, and the 14 inspectors left after budget cuts would not be able to carry out the necessary inspections, potentially crippling the island’s economy.

The school situation is well-known. Lingle’s cuts placed Hawaii last in the country for instructional days. This alone would rule out any high-tech future for Hawaii for some time, not to mention stealing our children’s future from them.

Lingle will be out after the next election (if there is one), so it may be left to her successor to mop up the damage. That’s more than a year away.

Still, the Legislature could act to bring some basic information to the people, either through the Council on Revenues or via some other authority. Then it’s up to us.

We need to know how much could be brought in by taking back some of the tax cuts that the rich have enjoyed. How much could be brought in by a sin tax on obesity-causing sugary beverages. If that tax were really pushed, it could bring in as much as $169 million. That would be extreme, but check out the linked article, which includes a handy calculator. There should be other options as well.

It’s a measure of the ineptitude of our current state administration that it chose to slash budgets without providing any alternatives.

While the Governor controls the purse strings, the Legislature can act on its own to at least bring facts into the open so that the people can decide.

From the NY Times article again:

“There is community energy and outrage building up,” said James Koshiba, a co-founder of the activist organization and Web site Kanu Hawaii, speaking about the cuts to education. “The people have to play a bigger role. Folks won’t forget how this unfolds, come election time.”

It’s about time we got that outrage into gear.


If readers are so inclined, you can reach all of our state lawmakers with just two email addresses: sens@capitol.hawaii.gov and reps@capitol.hawaii.gov.

Ask them to research potential tax increases and other sources of new revenue, and to release the information to the public. Send your email soon, the next legislative session begins in a couple of weeks.


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