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BY LOWELL L. KALAPA – At a recent family reunion on the beach, family members inquired about whom they should vote for in the upcoming elections as a number of candidates are making their first run at offices for which there are no incumbents.

While it is nearly impossible to examine the platforms of all the candidates running for office, voters should take the time to check out the promises and background of the candidates who are running in their district or for candidates running for countrywide or statewide seats. Before you throw away that silly brochure that the candidate or his worker left on your doorknob or fence post, check out the candidate’s credentials and platform or promises. And while probably no candidate is going to promise to raise your taxes – otherwise known as political suicide – there are subtle clues that should raise the eyebrows of taxpayers.

One thing taxpayers learned from this past session is that the public employee unions are not abashed in calling for raising taxes to keep public employees whole. So it only seems logical that voters who don’t want their taxes increased should not select candidates that have endorsements by public employee unions, as those candidates will be obligated to hop to the tune of the union’s flute if elected.

What has become increasingly clear in recent years is that many elected officials have very little life experience, that is many have not held a “real” job to the point that they understand what the challenges are to meeting a payroll, making sure that all of the forms are filed for their business or that all fees and licenses are paid. Not having any clue of how the laws that they will consider and/or eventually adopt will affect every day life has been the norm for lawmakers in recent years. As a result, the cost of living and doing business in Hawaii has become more costly as newly elected officials want to “save the world.” So look for candidates that have some real life experience, have held a “real” job and know what it is like to make ends meet and survive in what is an already expensive place to live.

And what about those promises of providing this or that service or a new public facility? Translate those promises into more money that will be needed to deliver those promises. That means those eager candidates, once elected, will come asking for more and more tax dollars in order to make good on those promises. Ask those candidates who promise added services or facilities how they expect to pay for them. The old adage that “there is no free lunch” comes quickly to mind.

At a time when state and county governments are mandating “furlough Fridays,” promising new services runs counter to saving those services taxpayers have already come to expect. To the contrary, look for candidates who promise to “right size” government so that taxpayers can afford what government services are truly essential to the health and welfare of the community. When candidates promise “better” services, be wary of how they expect to achieve a better quality of service. Do they plan to merely throw money at an existing service to improve it or do they have a creative way of improving those services with the existing financial resources?

What taxpayers learned during this past session is that elected officials find it difficult to cut spending especially when there is a vocal constituency for this or that service. One just has to look at the department of education’s efforts to reduce costs by closing schools where the enrollment has dwindled to the point that the cost per student to just maintain the infrastructure soars per student enrolled in those facilities. No one wants to be the “bad guy” who reduces or eliminates the current level of services. On the other hand, no one wants to shoulder the responsibility to equate an inefficient government with higher taxes.

And lest you think that taxpayers escaped a major tax increase this past session just because there was no increase in personal income tax rates or the general excise tax, taxpayers should remember that incumbent lawmakers approved an increase in the barrel tax on petroleum products that will affect the cost of everything from the gas at the pump to your household electric bill to the box of cereal at the grocery store. They also reinstated the state’s tax on inheritance and estates and hiked the tax on cigarettes and rental cars.

So as you shop for a candidate to support or vote for this fall, ask the candidate knocking on your door whether or not they are willing to make those difficult decisions to rein in the size of government. If they can’t, then you can bet your tax dollar that they will come after your pocketbook for more taxes.

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of Tax Foundation of Hawaii.

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