TAXWatch: Who’s Watching the Store?

It seems like every year we have a legislature, we have dozens of legislative tax proposals to wade through.  Some would lessen the burden on the beleaguered consumer, but most would do the reverse.

Most of the tax bills, as always, would put more money in the hands of lawmakers and bureaucrats at the expense of most of us who must work for a living and try to make ends meet. 

When do they know that enough is enough?

Here’s the simple answer:  When somebody — or preferably LOTS of somebodies — tells them. 

Here are some examples.  The House was considering the state improvement surcharge (House Bill 1990), which we wrote about here.  It’s just another name for “temporary” GET hike.  Before the House Finance Committee, there were eight pieces of testimony, including ours.  Four were in support, two in opposition, and two offered comments without taking a position.  Not what you could call a groundswell of opposition.

How about the bill to hike our income tax rate yet again (HB 2385), this time to add 12% and 13% income tax brackets, and make Hawaii the second in the nation in top tax rates, only a hair behind California’s millionaire’s tax of 13.3%?  Before the House Finance Committee, there were six pieces of testimony, including ours.  Four were in support, some requesting amendments; two offered comments without taking a position. Ho-hum. 

And what about the carbon tax, Senate Bill 3150, would immediately add 17 cents per gallon to our already pricey gasoline prices and keep going until the increment was more than 50 cents per gallon, as we previously wrote about here?  We counted 94 pieces of testimony before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, of which there were 71 in support, 12 opposed, and 11 comments.  The opposition was enough to get our Senate Transportation chair and one other senator excited enough to vote “no” at the Ways and Means hearing, but the bill still passed. 

You may think, “Well, what are you doing about it, Tax Foundation?”  We’re the alarm. We can bark. We can explain what the bills do so you, the public, and the lawmakers have a better understanding about them.  But we can’t do much more than that. You, the electorate, can decide whether to keep the same lawmakers or whether to show them to the door.  

Put yourself in the shoes of your senator or representative.  A bill comes across your desk, there is a cadre of people who support it, but there is visible and substantial opposition.  Wouldn’t you pause and think before casting your vote? You certainly would need to be accountable and have reasons prepared to give the side that you didn’t vote for.

And what if the same bill came across your desk with its supporters, but this time there were no opposition or token opposition?  Wouldn’t you vote for it too? You might not even want to or need to understand what the bill is about. After all, there are literally thousands of bills going through the legislative hopper each year.  It’s a Herculean task to thoroughly understand the benefits and detriments of each one, so it’s only natural to focus on those bills that people really care about.

Do you care about the amount of money that gets sucked away from your wallet by our government?  Do you feel that enough is enough? If you do, you need to show your lawmakers that you care. Then, at least, lawmakers will be forced to think about the implications of what they are voting on and, hopefully, come to principled decisions instead of simply following the herd of lemmings before them.

The MAUIWatch Community Network invites readers to express their views in the Community Viewpoint. Community Viewpoint columns should be on or around 800 words. Community Viewpoint submissions are subject to editing. We do not print letters announcing events to come, extensive quotations from other material, open letters or form letters. Send to contact (at) mauiwatch (dot) com. The opinions and information expressed in the Community Viewpoint are solely those of the authors and not the MAUIWatch Community Network.

Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.