BY BOB WATADA – After spending my life in Hawaii, my wife Rosa and I retired and moved to Oregon where the cost of living is more affordable, and that time away has given me a new perspective on Hawaii’s government and economy.
Because we still come home to visit and own property on Oahu, I have kept tabs on the increasing taxes and fees imposed by the government on Hawaii residents and visitors.
Hawaii residents and property owners are probably the highest taxed citizens in the country.
We own a condo in Honolulu, and pay Real Property Taxes, General Excise Taxes, Transient Accommodations Taxes and Income Taxes, and we also pay General Excise Tax on purchases during our visits home.
Our city sewage surcharges continue to increase, because under past mayors, city taxpayer funds were wasted on fancy amenities like a movie screen on Waikiki Beach and a hardcover coffee table book about Mayor Harris’s accomplishments, instead of on fixing our sewers. Other infrastructure has dilapidated because money was spent on pet projects instead of on fixing roads, bridges, parks and sidewalks. Ben Cayetano, our former governor now running for mayor, has a “Truth Squad” of former city management, and they estimate Oahu taxpayers need to spend up to $15 billion to catch up on infrastructure repairs.
Most political leaders care little about who is paying the taxes, but they care a great deal about returning favors to their political campaign donors, especially those who rely on donations and endorsements from contractors and unions leaders.
Another insight I’ve gained: Hawaii continues to count on federal money to keep the economy afloat. But the lesson we’ve learned in Oregon is don’t count on federal money.
Many counties here have been dependent on federal timber payments, which were like staples for many years. Recently, there has been major reductions, resulting in cutbacks in fire, police, education and health programs. (In Oregon, tax increases need to go on the ballot). Some counties are facing bankruptcy. The sentiment in Washington is for greater cuts in federal spending.
So back to Oahu and the city’s $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project now in the initial phases of construction out in the empty Ewa fields. Who will pay the bill? Oahu residents and visitors already pay an additional half percent on all purchases and services for the rail, and I see another rail tax in our future.
My political comment is no way! I do not want to pay for a rail to no where.
Bob Watada is the former Campaign Spending Director from 1994 to 2005 and now lives in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.