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Opening Day Shocker: Democratic Leaders Say Hawaii Taxes are High Enough

Senate president Donna Mercado Kim speaks as US Senator Brian Schatz looks on (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

In Hawaii, being in the Democrat majority in the House and Senate quite often means supporting a multitude of tax and fee hikes and newly created taxes during the annual legislative sessions - and it is to the point where Hawaii has one of the overall highest tax burdens in the country. As one tax expert explained, virtually everything in Hawaii is taxed including all economic activity.

But on Wednesday, January 16, during the first day of the 60 working day session, both the Senate president and House speaker expressed their concern over Hawaii's high tax burden.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said: "...I hope, first and foremost, that there will be NO new tax burdens thrust upon our citizens ... that we will not automatically open the taxpayers’ pocketbooks to every budget request, every new proposal, every capital improvement project."

And House Speaker Joe Souki even spoke about lowering at least one specific tax: "The top personal (income) tax rate was down at 7-3/4 percent at one time and now it's up to 11 percent – the highest in the nation. It's time to look at rolling back the personal tax burden for people with lower incomes and the middle class, at least incrementally, over the next few years."

In the Senate, both the Senate President and Senate Minority leader emphasized the need for accountability in government:

Kim said: "I call upon the administration to work with us to eliminate salary overpayments to state workers and abuses in overtime and sick leave. These translate into millions of dollars."

And on another accountability issue, she said: "We could definitely do better in acting on the Auditor’s recommendations, …. Some examples include the HI-5 recycling program, the Public Land Development Corporation, airport procurement contracts, Charter Schools, certain tax credits, and a host of other statutes and requirements that affect us all.  We need to either fix or repeal laws that are not working as they were intended, or which have created burdens that were unforeseen at the time of their establishment."

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom focused on some specific departments he would like to see be held accountable for poor performance:

About the University of Hawaii he said: "At our University, there is high cost and low achievement from our administration. What are the consequences so far? Nothing. Those involved with the Stevie Wonder Blunder and other careless spending still hold power and are paid well. They hope we will forget. We must not."

About the Office of Elections, he said: "Our Office of Elections is charged with only one duty every two years: organizing and holding fair, efficient and affordable elections for every voter. They booted it. Not to print and distribute enough ballots thereby denying a citizen’s right to vote—an easy enough task—is criminal and should be punished, but instead, in Hawaii tradition, the same people continue in office. They need to be replaced."

And about the Department of Health, Slom said: "Hawaii’s State Department of Health has badly mismanaged state recycling and several other programs they are responsible for. It’s not just me saying this; it is the Legislative Auditor, yet we do nothing to stop these practices."

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki and House Minority leader Aaron Johansen offered few details as to their plans for the session but both pledged to work together.

Hawaii’s first day of the session is a bit unusual when compared to other states. In addition to speeches from majority and minority leaders, both Houses feature Hawaiian entertainment, which could include Hawaiian choirs, school groups, professional musicians and hula dancers.

Afterward, the hundreds of constituents who show up at the capitol for opening day are invited to each of the 76 legislative offices to meet lawmakers and enjoy various tasty appetizers and desserts that collectively represent a wide variety of cultures in Hawaii.

Now that the festivities have passed, lawmakers will get down to business until the session wraps up in early May.

But just because these party leaders tout the importance of fiscal restraint and government accountability, doesn't mean that will actually be how it turns out.

 

There are 76 lawmakers, 25 in the Senate, including just one Republican; and 51 lawmakers in the House with 7 Republicans.

Some of the debates already in the forefront with many members of the legislature are not necessarily fiscal – they include whether gambling, marijuana and physician assisted suicide should be legalized.

--

Here are some highlights from the five speeches that took place opening day, and links to the entire text of their speeches.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim was officially elected on the Opening Day of the 2013 legislative session. Her entire speech can be viewed here: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/senate-president-2013-session-will-test-our-courage-willingness-to-change/123

Here are a few of the highlights from her speech.

  • With the strong visitor numbers and prospect of more revenues, and what I’d term “pent-up demand” to restore the budget cuts we’ve had to make, it might be tempting and politically popular for us to return to the spending patterns of more prosperous times.  We should proceed with caution.
  • Despite all of these demands, and the anticipation of better economic times, I hope, first and foremost, that there will be NO new tax burdens thrust upon our citizens ... that we will not automatically open the taxpayers’ pocketbooks to every budget request, every new proposal, every capital improvement project.
  • Reevaluating and reassessing what we have in place may not be sexy or innovative, but these must be done if we are to achieve our purposes more efficiently and effectively than we have been.
  • I call upon the administration to work with us to eliminate salary overpayments to state workers and abuses in overtime and sick leave. These translate into millions of dollars.  Let’s use these savings and the additional revenues forecast by the Council on Revenues to accelerate fixing our schools, funding kupuna care, reducing the unfunded liability of the state pension system, and repairing our roads and aging infrastructure.
  • The collapse of the Farrington High School's auditorium-roof was a loud warning that we need to quickly assess the structural soundness of our aging facilities.  Fortunately no one was injured, but we may not be so lucky the next time.
  • … we should pause to review the laws we have on the books.  Are they working?  Are they serving their intended purpose or are they barriers?
  • We could definitely do better in acting on the Auditor’s recommendations, …. Some examples include the HI-5 recycling program, the Public Land Development Corporation, airport procurement contracts, Charter Schools, certain tax credits, and a host of other statutes and requirements that affect us all.  We need to either fix or repeal laws that are not working as they were intended, or which have created burdens that were unforeseen at the time of their establishment.
  • There’s more we can do to streamline the duplication and overlapping of state/county jurisdictions that are confusing to those we serve.  Let’s not forget that we serve the same constituency and they don’t care whose jurisdiction it is, they just want it done.
  • “When we least expect it, life sends us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change.”  What better opportunity than now to heed these words.

Sam Slom, the Senate Minority Leader, presented these remarks opening day at the 2013 Hawaii State Legislature in the Senate Chambers. His entire speech can be viewed here:

http://www.hawaiireporter.com/opening-day-remarks-we-the-people-demand-action-and-accountability/123

Here are a few of the highlights from his speech.

  • Thank God, this body will once again have daily prayer, because if ever there was a time elected officials should call on a higher authority for guidance, it is now.
  • A nation and a state without accountability and lack of consequences set a dangerous precedent.
  • We don’t speak honestly to our constituents about the true costs and impact of major projects our state had undertaken like the heavy steel rail on O’ahu, the $2 billion undersea electric cable, wind turbines covering neighbor Island landscapes so that they might power O’ahu, and the costs associated with contract overages, add-ons, missing money and wasted funds. We must respect taxpayers enough to be truthful.
  • At our University, there is high cost and low achievement from our administration. What are the consequences so far? Nothing. Those involved with the Stevie Wonder Blunder and other careless spending still hold power and are paid well. They hope we will forget. We must not.
  • Our Office of Elections is charged with only one duty every two years: organizing and holding fair, efficient and affordable elections for every voter. They booted it. Not to print and distribute enough ballots thereby denying a citizen’s right to vote—an easy enough task—is criminal and should be punished, but instead, in Hawaii tradition, the same people continue in office. They need to be replaced.
  • Hawaii spends more on welfare and other social service programs than we do on educating our children.
  • There is a new, expensive, taxpayer subsidized proposal to put our 4 year olds in government schools. The $30 million Early Education program is widely supported by politicians, non-profits that will gain financially, unions, and a well funded lobbying group. I oppose this further intervention by a government that has not been able to provide even an average education with existing programs and billions of annual subsidies in the government schools.
  • Our attention in the first days of the 27th Legislature will not be on providing consequences for poor behavior and performance. More likely, we’ll light up the debate on marijuana, roll the dice on gambling, and try to make it easier to die by suicide, after escaping abortion.
  • In Hawaii, we have not done our best on behalf of Hawaii’s people. We can and must do better. I believe in an even greater Hawaii with more choices and opportunities for all of our residents. We have it in our power to make it so. Our people and culture are our greatest resources. They are counting on us. We must not fail them.

 

House Speaker Joseph Souki was newly elected on January 16, 2013, at the opening day of the legislative session. But serving as House Speaker is nothing new for Souki. Fifteen years ago, Rep. Calvin Say, D-Palolo, ousted Souki as House Speaker, and today Souki took the floor back. Read his full speech here: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/house-speaker-charting-a-path-forward-for-our-state/123

Here are some of the key quotes from his brief speech:

  • If we want to do all these things the people require -- and yes, I know we do -- we must enhance our revenue stream. We must put together a mix of strategies that will generate more state revenues ---- equitably.
  • … But increasing revenue does not mean placing an unfair burden on those who can least afford it. Members, the top personal tax rate was down at 7-3/4 percent at one time and now it's up to 11 percent – the highest in the nation. It's time to look at rolling back the personal tax burden for people with lower incomes and the middle class, at least incrementally, over the next few years.
  • The film industry claims a tax credit will generate $350 million in revenues for the State. Should we turn our back on this? Let's give it a serious and thorough look first.

 

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki was newly elected as the majority leader at the opening day celebration of the 2013 legislature. http://www.hawaiireporter.com/opening-day-remarks-hawaii-a-safe-place-where-people-live-with-dignity-and-opportunity/123

Here are some of the quotes from his brief speech:

  • … symbolism of the State Capitol. The building itself represents a volcano that is surrounded by coconut trees and the ocean. Our House chamber is decorated in earth tones and a sun lamp. In contrast, the Senate chamber is shaded in ocean blue with a moon lamp. I have to say that it is more appropriate that earth colors are on our side – because everyone agrees that the House is the more grounded body in the Legislature. But don't tell the Senate President I just said that. Because we have more members and smaller districts, we have a constant check on the pulse of our community.
  • Everyone knows the saying about the similarities between lawmaking and sausage making. But perhaps the lawmaking process doesn't have to always be that way.
  • Simply put and geographically speaking, our State is too small, and our challenges too large, for there to be division within the people's House.

 

Aaron Ling Johanson, the House Minority Leader, presented his opening remarks at the Hawaii State Legislature on January 16, 2013. Here is the text of his full speech: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/house-minority-leader-common-sense-leadership-needed/123

Here are some highlights from his brief speech:

  • People all across the country are speaking out and asking for common sense leaders who will work to find common ground. We, here in Hawaii, are answering this call...starting today.
  • With the cost of living rising, the effect of federal spending cuts uncertain, and the burden of unfunded liabilities looming large, we must have a common purpose. The improvement of the lives of all our people is that common purpose.
  • Youth brings energy and new ideas to the table, but it needs a strong foundation. Our caucus' foundation has been built by a champion of small business and an international diplomat, a tireless environmental advocate, a veteran fighting hard for the benefit of other veterans, and the generations of leaders who came before us.

 

Short URL: http://www.hawaiireporter.com/?p=261487

3 Comments for “Opening Day Shocker: Democratic Leaders Say Hawaii Taxes are High Enough”

  1. Hilarious that you actually beieve the Dems are telling the truth. Check back 3 or 4 months from now. There will be tax and fee raises.

  2. Now, the Lieutenant Governor's office says it will be seeking an emergency appropriation likely to exceed tens of thousands of dollars. The costs arise from the turnover of the lieutenant governor position, but it's a small cost compared to much more daunting costs discussed Monday in budget briefings.
    When Schatz went to Washington, that meant a turnover of not only his job but seven other trusted colleagues from his office.
    The new lieutenant governor's chief of staff testified at a Ways and Means briefing that they'll be seeking an emergency appropriation to cover payouts of vacation, unused sick leave and such for the current fiscal year.
    http://www.khon2.com/news/local/story/Tab-coming-...

    If want to comment about this, go to Senate Ways and Means Committee e-mail address: WAMTestimony@Capitol.hawaii.gov

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