Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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Considering a Carbon Tax with Rebates

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The Hawaii Tax Review Commission, under our state constitution, convenes once every five years or so to examine and report on our state tax system. It recently published its report addressed to the Legislature

Its top recommendation is that the state enact a carbon tax, paid by suppliers of  petroleum  products or other fossil fuels. They recommended that the tax be imposed between $56 and $79 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent produced. (For gasoline, this translates to 39 cents to 54 cents per gallon.) And the Commission recommended it purely to disincentivize fossil fuel use to protect the planet, and not for the State to raise revenue.  The Commission estimated that the tax would raise between $450 million and $500 million a year and recommended that 80% of the tax be rebated to taxpayers.

To me, that sounds a little like asking the wolf to guard the henhouse and, after the wolf has stuffed a few chickens in its mouth, to politely ask the wolf to give most of the chickens back.

Why such doubt?  Just last year, our legislature enacted a huge change of heart toward revenue sharing. Our transient accommodations tax, the hotel room tax, had been shared with the counties for decades.  But under HB 862 (2021), the State took it all.  And this was after the Governor had vetoed the bill so providing.  The Governor said, among other things, that the State’s revenue picture didn’t look as bleak as previously forecasted (because we were going to get lots of money in aid from the federal government, for example) and we didn’t have the same pressure to shore up State revenues.  (Indeed, the rebound in this year’s tax collections is “astounding,” according to the Governor.)  The legislature nevertheless overrode the Governor’s veto. 

The Commission recommended that the State cut rebate checks either to all individuals or to all but the top 20% earners. I can easily see the Legislature turning this recommendation on its head, keeping the 80% for “immediate revenue needs” (Civil Beat quoted House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke as saying, “There’s too many needs out there and too many things we need to take care of that need immediate attention”), while perhaps rebating a smidgen of the money by either juicing up existing credits for lower income taxpayers like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Food/Excise Tax Credit, or by enacting a new refundable credit.  In 2020, for example, the Legislature was considering a carbon tax.  SB 3150 SD1 (2020) proposed to impose tax at between $40 and $80 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent and allow a companion refundable credit of between $100 and $500 for a married couple, phasing out entirely at gross annual household income of $75,000.  (Subsequent drafts of the legislation changed the numbers in the bill to blank amounts, leaving taxpayers to guess what our lawmakers were thinking.)  The Commission’s recommended cashback per household, in contrast, is closer to $1,000 assuming the top 20% earners don’t get to participate in it.

And then, even if the carbon tax is enacted as recommended, it’s going to fall particularly hard on folks who live in suburban or rural areas and need to endure long commutes to everyday work.  The Department of Transportation, by the way, is independently studying (and hyping) a road usage charge that would make life even more costly for those commuters by replacing the gasoline tax with a tax based on miles driven. (Or at least they say the gasoline tax will be replaced, but the Legislature may well have other ideas on that point too.)

This, of course, is not the only recommendation the Tax Review Commission came up with. We will be discussing some of the other recommendations in coming weeks. 

Let’s resolve to put the state on a diet

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feet standing on electronic scales for weight control. Measurement instrument in kilogram for a diet control

By Keli’i Akina

The start of a new year is traditionally a time for resolutions and self-improvement. So, in that spirit of personal growth, it’s time we engage in some brutal candor about a problem in our state that’s difficult to ignore, Yes, Hawaii’s state budget needs to go on a diet.

I admit, the past two years have been tough for all of us. Who hasn’t put on a few pounds since March 2020, when most of us were ordered to hang around the house more  — where our refrigerators are located — in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19?

But Hawaii’s state budget had been packing on the pounds long before the coronavirus lockdowns started; its current ballooning figure is the result of years of indulgence and bad habits. 

If anything, 2021 was a wake-up call. Some state policymakers actually started to consider eating a few fresh vegetables, which in this case means spending cuts. But then state tax revenues came in higher than expected, the federal bailout added more money to the coffers, and most of them went right back to snacking on high-calorie tax dollars, avoiding balanced budgeting as if it were an actual treadmill.

In releasing his executive supplemental budget for fiscal 2023, Gov. David Ige announced that Hawaii’s rebounding economy has resulted in “astounding” tax revenues. As a result, I am happy to say, he says he is not planning any tax increases. 

But the Legislature is a wild card, and I am pretty sure some of its members have different plans. The truth is, however, that the best way to increase state revenues is not through tax hikes, but through policies that grow the economy. The state can reap far more through economic growth than it can through an increase in taxes, as the first five months of fiscal 2023 just proved. 

During the 2021 legislative session, too many of our lawmakers refused to see this and simply went ahead and increased our taxes, further burdening Hawaii’s businesses and taxpayers.

The panic over the possible loss in revenues caused by the lockdowns was so severe that the Legislature took away the county shares of the state transient accommodations tax, leaving the counties to levy their own TATs, which all have done.

Combined with the state’s general excise tax of 4%, plus the 0.5% county GET surcharges on Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island, which tourists also pay, the Aloha State now has the highest tourist taxes in the nation, topping out at 17.75% — not exactly ideal to help Hawaii’s ailing tourism industry recover.

But back to the bloated budget: At present, the state is looking at a budget windfall, thanks to higher tax revenues and an infusion of federal aid funds. But rather than revert to its usual bad habits, the state should resolve for 2022 to slim down and achieve good health. As any fitness guru will tell you, the first step toward improvement is to stop the bad habits. 

No more saddling future generations with high debt. Don’t postpone paying down unfunded liabilities. Don’t borrow more for new projects. Post a reminder on the refrigerator to not raise taxes on Hawaii residents or businesses. Even better, look for ways to cut taxes and lower the cost of living, perhaps by working more with the private sector to deliver certain public services. As I said, the best way to produce tax revenues is through economic growth. 

Sure, it won’t be easy; significant self-improvement is usually a major challenge. But we’re not looking to put the state budget on a crash diet. 

We want state policymakers to embrace a lifestyle change for 2022, one that will lead to a healthier, happier and more prosperous Hawaii for generations to come.
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Keli’i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. This commentary was Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for Jan. 1, 2022. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

Insuring your collection? You’ll need the Bluebook of Gun Values

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Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series I’ve entitled “At Home and on the Range”. These pieces entail products and services that I think will be of particular interest to On Target readers in the coming year.

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Everyone is familiar with that old maxim “there’s nothing certain except death and taxes”. Well, I might add insurance premiums to the list.

If you’re like a lot of folks who have a “collection” of firearms, the value can run into a considerable sum. Being the thoughtful person that you are, you’re going to have it insured.

How exactly does one determine the value for insurance purposes or if you’re going to trade or sell an item?

The answer is the Bluebook of Gun Values which is available as an old fashioned “analogue” book or, online.

Why do I think it’s worthwhile?  

First off, it’s quite comprehensive, even encyclopedic. The Blue Book of Gun Values includes around 1,900 manufacturers and approximately 30,000 gun model descriptions which comes to about 180,000 values.

The newest edition, published last year, includes includes all the new 2021 makes and models, along with pricing updates on many current and discontinued models.

How does it work?

Essentially you look up whatever model you have and the book provides a table with ascribed values according to condition or grade, which ranges from New in Box (NIB) to 50%. Your job is to ascertain what condition the firearm is really in.

How do you do this? After all you’re not a museum curator.  

The Blue Book of Gun Values offers both an encyclopedic data base and grading criteria to value your collection

The Blue Book of Gun Values provides a very complete photo database that includes every manner of rifle and handgun with comprehensive descriptions germane to the model, so that you can assess the value. For example, is your Smith & Wesson revolver pinned? Does it have a stainless or blued finish? Does yourModel 5906 Stainless (see below) have a tritium sight? If so, add another $115 to the value. All of these factors, including the grade, will impact the value.

There’s even a a serialization index that enables finding serial number information easy.

In essence, The Blue Book has the resources to allow you to go very deep into this subject and come up with an accurate valuation.

In addition to the photo database there are a number of detail-packed essays ranging from grading criteria to serialization that add great value to this book.

Of course, like anything, this publication has some limitations.

It’s not going go have every gun every manufactured, but it will cover some obscure stuff. For example, I acquired a Baby Nambu, a rare Japanese military pistol. To my surprise it was listed in the book.

There was an instance where the Blue Book did not cover the features of a particular Smith revolver that I owned. However, I emailed the publisher and they were able to set me straight.

Of course, there’s always the odd apocalyptic event that may impact the value of firearms.

It’s hard to value guns in the midst of a gun buying craze but the Blue Book of Gun Values offers a foundation.

If you’re in the midst of a firearms buying craze, triggered by a pandemic or politics (or both), the prices listed in the Blue Book of Gun Values may not reflect the up-to-the-minute trends in the marketplace. If you want to sell your Russian AK during a gun buying craze, the book is not going to provide the latest price. However, it’s not really meant to do that. (Better to check prices on Gunbroker in that instance).

To the publisher’s credit, Zachary R. Fjestad put together an excellent essay, “A year in review, what happened?”, which did a good job of surveying the climate, racked by divisive politics and plague, into perspective.

In fairness, “buying craze” scenarios usually don’t impact valuing collections for insurance purposes.

The only nitpicking comment I have is that the website could be better structured. The content is there but it’s not always obvious where it’s found.

That said, this doesn’t impact the inherent quality of the resource.

If you’re planning to purchase or sell a firearm or, appraise the value of your collection, the Blue Book of Gun Values is a must have.

1920 Jones Act needs an update, and so does the Jones Act fleet

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By Jonathan Helton

America’s federal Jones Act is old and in dire need of an update. Oceangoing U.S. ships sailing under the auspices of the Jones Act fleet are in a similar condition. 

Now 101 years old, the Jones Act technically is Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, and requires that all ships transporting goods between U.S. ports be U.S. flagged and built, and mostly owned and crewed by Americans.

Its intent was to ensure national security by protecting America’s maritime industry from foreign competition. By almost any measure, however, the law has been a failure. 

U.S. shipyards capable of building large oceangoing commercial ships have dwindled from 30 in 1953 to just four as of November 2021, and oceangoing Jones Act ships have declined in number from 257 in 1980 to just 96,1 less than 1% of all commercial oceangoing vessels worldwide.2 

Worse — from an efficiency, cost and safety perspective — Jones Act ships are, on average, significantly older than most of their international counterparts, with the exception of oil tankers, which average 13.47 years old versus 18.87 internationally.3 The difference is largely due to the recent buildup of Jones Act tankers for the Gulf Coast-East Coast market, where the lack of pipeline capacity has necessitated the use of ships. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990’s double-hulled tanker mandate has also contributed to the lower age of Jones Act-qualified oil tankers.4

Even though these U.S. oil tankers are relatively young, there aren’t many of them — not enough to properly supply the East Coast’s demand for oil, at least. As the Colonial Pipeline hack in May 2021 demonstrated, oil companies simply do not have enough options for transporting oil, and the only short-term remedy to provide additional shipping capacity after the hack was for President Joe Biden to temporarily waive the Jones Act.5

Meanwhile, all of America’s oceangoing roll-on/roll-off ships, containerships and cargo ships are definitely outpacing their international counterparts in age. Jones Act container ships, for example, average 21.61 years old, versus the international average of 12.34. In Hawaii, the containerships operated by the two main Jones Act carriers, Matson and Pasha, average 16.5 and 41.25 years old, respectively.6

In the Great Lakes, the Jones Act fleet is in even worse shape. Until the launch of the Mark W. Barker earlier this year, no large ship had been added to the Great Lakes fleet since 1983. 

“Put another way” said Jones Act analyst Colin Grabow, “the last time the Great Lakes fleet saw a new ship was the same year Michael Jackson unveiled the moonwalk and the first cellphone was released for commercial use.”7

Internationally, many ships are scrapped between the ages of 15 and 20.8 The average scrapping age for general cargo ships is 35.4; the average age of Jones Act general cargo ships currently is 36.8.9

In past years, the Jones Act fleet also included dry bulk carriers, but not anymore. The last one, the Texas Enterprise, was scrapped earlier this year at the age of 40.10

Even when multiple Jones Act dry bulkers existed, the relative lack of these ships and their high costs proved a problem for U.S. businesses, such as livestock producers in North Carolina, who opted to import corn from Brazil instead of shipping it from the U.S. heartland.11

One reason for the increased costs of older ships is that they have higher maintenance and repair costs.12 They also are more carbon-intensive than recently constructed ships.13 The U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in 2013 that “older vessels burn fuel faster and less efficiently compared to newer vessels, and the age of some of the Jones Act carriers’ vessels has contributed to increasing fuel costs.”14

But old ships aren’t just inefficient. They’re also dangerous. 

For example, in 2015, the El Faro, a 40-year-old Jones Act containership, sank en route to Puerto Rico when it sailed into a hurricane. But the storm wasn’t the only problem the ship encountered. Economist Thomas Grennes noted that “the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board … found multiple factors that contributed to the sinking and loss of lives, but both agencies identified factors related to the age of the ship.”15

Former crew members told CNN that “the chief cook’s room was constantly leaking water” and that “the El Faro … needed a death certificate. It was a rust bucket.”16

Grennes also said academic research has found that the older the ship, the more likely it is to be involved in an accident. In fact, the Marshall Islands, a common flag of convenience registry, does not allow ships more than 20 years old in its registry — “unless owners provide additional information about the safety of the older ships.”17

Jones Act carriers, meanwhile, commonly keep their ships on the water well past the 40-year-old age of the El Faro. The last 12 Jones Act bluewater ships that were sold for scrap, for example, had an average age of 41.9 years. The latest ship scrapped, Matson’s Lihue, was a decrepit 50 years old — almost half as old as the Jones Act itself.18

By contrast, the average age of the largest fleet in the world, owned by shipping giant Maersk Line of Denmark, was just 9 years old in 2017. With the company’s acquisition that year of German-owned Hamburg Süd, that average actually improved, since Hamburg Süd’s ships averaged only 6 years old.19

The elderly Jones Act fleet is a natural consequence of the law’s U.S.-build requirement, which is problematic because Jones Act oceangoing ships cost between four and five times as much to construct as their international counterparts. This encourages ship owners to keep their vessels in service as long as possible.20

Both the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office have confirmed that the build requirement delays the purchase of newer ships.21

Let’s hope Congress doesn’t delay in reforming the domestic build requirement of the Jones Act, for the sake of economic freedom, efficiency and safety.
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Jonathan Helton is a research associate with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
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  1. The Decline of U.S. Shipbuilding,” Shipbuilding History, updated Jan. 21, 2016; Colin Grabow and Inu Manak, “The Jones Act at 100: Time to Make This Protectionist Law History,” Cato Institute, June 11, 2020; Josh Mason and Jonathan Helton, “Five myths about the Jones Act,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii Policy Brief, Nov. 2021, pp. 8-9.
  2. Merchant Fleets of the World Privately-Owned, Oceangoing Merchant Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Over as of January 1, 2016,” U.S. Maritime Administration, Jan. 1, 2016.
  3. United States‐Flag Privately‐Owned Merchant Fleet Report Oceangoing, Self‐Propelled Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Above that Carry Cargo from Port to Port,” U.S. Maritime Administration, July 20, 2021; and Jan Hoffmann, “Decarbonizing maritime transport: Estimating fleet renewal trends based on ship scrapping patterns,”UNCTAD, Feb. 25, 2020.
  4. See: John Frittelli, “Shipping Under the Jones Act: Legislative and Regulatory Background,” Congressional Research Service, Nov. 21, 2019, p. 15, footnote 70; see also John Gallager, “Watchdog: Lifting crude oil export ban dealt blow to Jones Act tankers,” FreightWaves, Nov. 20, 2020; and John Frittelli et al., “U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 4, 2014, p. 9.
  5. Charles Kennedy, “East Coast Fuel Supply Hampered By Tanker Shortage,” Oilprice.com, May 13, 2021.
  6. United States‐Flag Privately‐Owned Merchant Fleet Report Oceangoing, Self‐Propelled Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Above that Carry Cargo from Port to Port,” U.S. Maritime Administration. The 16.25 number applies to only the containerships Matson deploys in its Hawaii service; the average age of the company’s entire Jones Act containership fleet is 20.14 years old. Pasha Hawaii operates no containerships outside its Hawaii routes, so 41.25 is the average age for its entire containership fleet. The data can be retrieved from the U.S. Maritime Administration in Excel form here.
  7. Colin Grabow, “Aging U.S. Great Lakes Fleet Another Example of Protectionist Failure,” Cato Institute, Nov. 2, 2021.
  8. John Frittelli, “The Coast Guard’s Need for Experienced Marine Safety Personnel,” Congressional Research Service, Sept. 19, 2019, p. 2
  9. Jan Hoffmann, “Decarbonizing maritime transport: Estimating fleet renewal trends based on ship scrapping patterns”; “Merchant Fleets of the World Privately-Owned, Oceangoing Merchant Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Over as of January 1, 2016,” Maritime Administration.
  10. United States Flag Privately‐Owned Merchant Fleet Oceangoing, Self‐Propelled, Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Above that Carry Cargo from Port to Port, Summary of Changes from 2016 Onward,” Maritime Administration, July 20, 2021, p. 9.
  11. Michael Hansen, “Jones Act Opposition from the Carolinas,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Aug. 21, 2015.
  12. Lixian Fan, Sijie Zhang, and Jingbo Yin, “Structural Analysis of Shipping Fleet Capacity,” Journal of Advanced Transportation, Sept. 12, 2018.
  13. Haifeng Wang and Nic Lutsey, “Long-term Potential for Increased Shipping Efficiency Through the Adoption of Industry-leading Practices,” International Council on Clean Transportation, July 2013, p. 16; Gary Wollenhaupt, “Study says ships are less fuel efficient; operational evidence differs,” Professional Mariner, July 30, 2015.
  14. Puerto Rico Characteristics of the Island’s Maritime Trade and Potential Effects of Modifying the Jones Act,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 2013, p. 15.
  15. Thomas Grennes, “Sacrificing Safety Is an Unintended Consequence of the Jones Act,” Mercatus Center, March 21, 2018.
  16. Steve Almasy and Yasmin Khorram, “El Faro had leaks, holes, other structural issues, former crew members say,” CNN, Oct. 9, 2015.
  17. Thomas Grennes, “Sacrificing Safety Is an Unintended Consequence of the Jones Act.”
  18. United States Flag Privately‐Owned Merchant Fleet Oceangoing, Self‐Propelled, Vessels of 1,000 Gross Tons and Above that Carry Cargo from Port to Port, Summary of Changes from 2016 Onward,” U.S. Maritime Administration, p. 8.
  19. World’s Largest Containership Fleet Is Here,” Offshore Energy, Dec. 13, 2017.
  20. Jonathan Helton, “The Jones Act: 100 years of failed protectionism,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, June 5, 2020.
  21. John Frittelli, “The Coast Guard’s Need for Experienced Marine Safety Personnel,” p. 2; “Puerto Rico Characteristics of the Island’s Maritime Trade and Potential Effects of Modifying the Jones Act,” p. 16.

More on Green Fees

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Once every five years or so, the Hawaii Constitution asks our government officials to put together a Tax Review Commission.  Its job is to “conduct a systematic review of the State’s tax structure, using such standards as equity and efficiency.”

To some people, it means it’s a chance to get in front of lawmakers and argue that we aren’t being taxed enough.

One of the proposals that the commission was urged to push was for the establishment of a “green fee.”  As its proponents put it:

Visitor green fees are used all around the world to generate revenue to protect natural and cultural resources, create green jobs, and enhance the visitor experience. Visitor green fees are payments made by tourists, primarily to regulatory entities, with the explicit purpose of funding natural resource management. This policy approach, now implemented in dozens of geographies worldwide, offers a solution to offset visitor impacts to ecosystems, and provides a means to protect nature that communities and tourists alike depend on.

Last year, we wrote in this space that the kind of green fees that are imposed in foreign destinations aren’t imposed in any state of the United States – probably because such a fee would be unconstitutional.  States have no right to burden the right of Americans to travel throughout the country, which means we can’t tax the entry or departure of mainland tourists.  And there is another part of the U.S. Constitution that forbids States from discriminating against foreign commerce, because that is a task left exclusively to the federal government.  So, we can’t impose such a fee on foreign tourists either.

To get around these restrictions, the proposal before the Tax Review Commission seeks to instead build on existing taxes and fees:

  • Using existing state Transient Accommodations Taxes or adding a TAT surcharge;
  • Implementing or increasing park and other user fees for outdoor activities;
  • Imposing general excise tax surcharges for certain visitor-related activities, services, and purchases; and/or
  • Some combination of these or other approaches.

The U.S. Constitution requires that if we kama’aina want to travel to another island and stay in a hotel, rent a car, or otherwise do touristy stuff, we are going to get whacked to the same extent as other tourists from other places.  Is that what we want?

We also need to realize that most of our economy is based on tourism.  When COVID-19 shut down our tourism, widespread pain and anguish was felt in our state between layoffs, business closures, and rent and mortgage defaults.  Taxing tourism to death might have the same impact.  “Now is not the time to visit the Islands,” Gov. Ige said in August because of our COVID surge.  Jacking up the taxes on the tourism industry is like telling the tourists that there isn’t ever a good time to visit the Islands.  Is that what we want?

So, before we go down the road to green fees or something like them, we should be asking ourselves if we really want to go there.

And by the way, Tax Review Commission, it’s questionable whether “finding new taxes” is in your job description when we have enough problems with the taxes we have.

State budget windfall opens way for tax cuts

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Photo by Charley Myers

Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations show there is plenty of room for the Legislature to break its habit of continually increasing taxes

HONOLULU, Dec. 23, 2021 >> Gov. David Ige’s fiscal 2023 general fund budget shows revenues are up $252 million more than last year,[1] but could be up to $1.7 billion more than that because of economic activity that has been generating more tax revenues than expected.[2]

The state’s incoming revenue is so great right now that the governor said this week he will not propose any new taxes this year.[3]

Members of the state Legislature might have other ideas about that, but the recent influx of federal aid and tax revenues shows there is plenty of room to work toward tax reduction, said Keli‘i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

“Hawaii residents deserve some much-needed relief from the state’s exceptionally high cost of living,” said Akina. “It would be a shame if state lawmakers squandered this opportunity to give everybody a break from the usual fare of increased taxes, year after year.”

He said: “The governor might even wish to consider promising to veto any tax increases, period. And based on a recent poll the institute commissioned, I’m pretty certain most Hawaii residents would stand behind him for that.”[4]

According to the state Council on Revenues projections in September, state general fund revenues for fiscal 2023 were expected to grow at 4% compared with the previous year.[5] But for the first five months of fiscal 2023, the revenues have been flowing in at an “astounding” 27.3% higher rate than the year before, according to the governor[6] — or about $737 million so far, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations show.[7]

The institute calculated that if the revenues continue at that pace, the total by the end of fiscal 2023 could be about $1.7 billion higher than expected. If they were to grow at even half that pace for the rest of the fiscal year, the total would be about $700 million more than the Council on Revenues predicted.[8]

The resulting revenue windfall would be in addition to the $1 billion of federal American Rescue Plan aid infused into the state’s fiscal 2022 budget, and the $286 million added to the fiscal 2023 budget.[9]

“The revenues are indeed ‘astounding,’” Akina said, “especially considering that most of it has come from a meager reopening of the economy. Imagine what could be accomplished if lawmakers and the governor were more focused on reopening all aspects of our economy.”

Akina added: “Lawmakers are sitting on a bonanza, and they should find ways to return unneeded cash to the taxpayers.”

While Ige’s proposed budget does not include a tax increase, there is no doubt several tax bills will surface once the legislative session begins next month. 

Already, there are calls for new “revenue generation” tools.[10] The same day the governor released his budget, the Hawaii Tax Commission also released its biannual report in which it recommended a litany of new taxes. 

Among other reforms, the commission suggested: 

>> A $100 million carbon tax, to incentivize cleaner energy, 80% of the proceeds of which would be rebated to taxpayers.

>> Taxing public pension income to the tune of $50 million per year.

>> Creating a “Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Sustainable Government Spending” to review the state’s taxing and spending policies.

>> Repealing certain little-used general excise tax exemptions.

But according to Akina: “Tax hikes were unnecessary last year, and they are unnecessary now. Lawmakers should reject any calls for more taxes on a public that largely opposes such measures.”

Akina referenced a survey conducted earlier this year for the institute by marketing research firm Anthology, which showed that 70% of nearly 1,000 Hawaii respondents believed their taxes were too high, and 81% opposed paying more.[11]

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[1] “The FY 2023 Executive Supplemental Budget,” Department of Budget and Finance, Dec. 20, 2021, p. 3, which shows total revenues of $8.6627 billion in fiscal 2023, which is $252 million more than $8.4106 billion in fiscal 2022.
[2] “Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations of FY 23 windfall,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Dec. 22, 2021. Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations confirmed via email by the state Department of Taxation on Dec. 22, 2021.
[3] Kevin Dayton, “The Rebound In State Tax Collections This Year Is ‘Astounding,’ Ige Says,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Dec. 20, 2021.
[4] “Most Hawaii residents want lower taxes, new survey shows,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Oct. 13, 2021.
[5] “Council on Revenues,” Hawaii Department of Taxation, Sept. 9, 2021, p. 2.
[6] “Governor’s Message to the 31st State Legislature,” Dec. 21, 2021, p. iii.
[7] “Grassroot Institute of Hawaii calculations of FY 23 windfall.”
[8] “Ibid.”
[9] “Legislative budget system budget comparison worksheet,” Hawaii State Capitol, p. 1157, row V at the bottom, which shows $1,059,369,925 American Rescue Plan funds for fiscal 2022 and $286,935,756 for fiscal 2023. See also, HB200 CD1 of 2021, p.4, which shows that V stands for American Rescue Plan funds.
[10] “Report of the 2020 – 2022 Tax Review Commission,” Hawaii Department of Taxation, Dec. 20, 2021, p. 17.
[11] “Most Hawaii residents want lower taxes, new survey shows.”

Emily, Covid and the Ultimate Exit–musings from an expat in Portugal

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Editor’s Note: The world keeps on turning. In spite of the chaos of the last year, we’re moving forward and, whenever possible, even with a little panache. Kurt Stewart, our writer-at-large in Europe, recently bought a 230-year-old house in the center of Portugal. With the help of a European Union grant, he and his wife have embarked on a project for sustainable tourism. He’ll be bringing his insights to our readers in Hawaii and around the world, telling the stories that matter from his perch on the Iberian Peninsula as a regular feature to Hawaii Reporter.

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As we live through the Time of COVID, I can’t help but ponder our existence, which requires all 99,9% of my enlightened self (sadly, the remaining 0.1 percent is still missing).

There is the pall of death, or its counterfeit, hanging in the air, and lamentations, like those in the Tibetan book of the Dead (“Please guide all beings from this swamp of cyclic existence”!!) are heard from every shore and mountaintop. So, if the mind does turn to morbid thoughts from time to time, that is to be expected. 

Anyway, this is just to segue to a recent fascination I’ve found with some of the poems of Emily Dickinson. A wonderful discovery, to be sure. I think the woman must have been some kind of mystic, or at the very least a person of exceptional inspiration writing as she did as a single woman in the mid-19th century. She had her finger on the pulse of death, often it appears because many of her some 1,780 poems deal with the subject of our ultimate exit, stage left.

One poem I’ll share with you here blew me to bits when I read it. The title of the poem alone astonishes – “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died”. How incredible – in a few words, she captures the strange absurdity that the singular event of death visits upon us. With breathtaking insight, she pins death to the wall like a moth specimen and invites us to examine its details. And she does so through the voice of the cadaver that is lying in its coffin at its own wake!

There is a line describing the fly, this uninvited visitor that buzzes around the deceased, which just floored me: “With Blue – uncertain – Stumbling Buzz -” a haiku-like perfect snapshot of this moment.

Here it is in its entirety – you may not see what I see here, or even react as I did. Poetry, as you well know, is in the eye of the beholder. But I share for sharing’s sake, as a fellow seeker who has also pondered the meaning of life, death and everything in between!

Bluebottle fly

The “Bardo Thodol”, the original Tibetan title for the work known as “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” means “between” and refers to the transitional period of the soul between death and rebirth. Maybe that’s what COVID is – an in-between stage for all of us in transition. Ask not for whom the fly buzzes, it buzzes for thee!

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air –

Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset – when the King

Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable – and then it was

There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –

Between the light – and me –

And then the Windows failed – and then

I could not see to see –

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Kurt Stewart, our writer-at-large in Europe

Kurt Stewart is a writer, educator and entrepreneur who has been telling stories about the places he has lived and worked for more than 35 years.  

After leaving his native San Francisco in 1981, he began his writing career in Paris where he wrote feature articles for Paris Passion magazine and USA Today. He later moved to Portugal where he taught in the School of Film and Television at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Porto. He spent several years in Malaysia working with the Ministry of Education training teachers in the public schools. While there, he wrote travel stories for the Hawaii Reporter. His latest venture involves country living in the heart of Portugal’s still undiscovered central region.

Keeping the lead out of your life with Hygenall and surgical gloves

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Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series I’ve entitled “At Home and on the Range”. These pieces entail products and services that I think will be of particular interest to On Target readers in the coming year.

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How about a New Year’s Resolution that entails keeping lead out of your life? If you’re around firearms I can guarantee you, you’re around lead. So, unfortunately are plenty of other folks in this country who never even pick up a gun.

Uncovering news articles about elevated levels of lead in Americans is not hard to do. If you google “elevated levels of lead” as a search term there are numerous stories such as the tragic tale of Flint, Michigan. Of course, lead has been a ubiquitous ingredient in gasoline, paint and other products for years or for that matter, millennia. One theory has it, that lead, which was used in cooking vessels and other artifacts, was a cause of the decline of the Roman Empire.

There’s a credible theory that the Romans poisoned themselves with pottery that was lead-glazed, such as this 1st century mold-made flagon discovered in France (Gaul).

It’s still not a desirable thing to encounter in an intimate way.

Chronic exposure to lead at elevated levels, for both children and adults, increases the risk of hypertension, kidney disease, cognitive dysfunction, and adverse reproductive outcomes, according to public health officials. Even a slight elevation can lead to stunted development and a reduced IQ, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So where does that leave gun owners who shoot lead bullets? (Which means just about all of us).

Reloaders should be especially cognizant of encounters with lead.

According to a report from the California Department of Public Health’s Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, people employed with ammunition manufacturing, at ranges, gun repair shops, security training or even shooting instruction may be among those adults with the highest levels of lead exposure, with some having 40 µg/dL or greater, blood lead levels according to the report.

I’m not a public health doc but I don’t think it’s a gigantic leap of faith to believe that even the average gun owner who doesn’t take measures to protect him (or herself) risks acquiring unhealthy levels of lead in their system.

There are some common sense things to prevent this.

• Don’t picnic at the range. Not a good idea to eat or drink while shooting. (I don’t see a lot of eating at Kokohead, with the exception of rangemasters who aren’t handling firearms).
• Keep a pair of shoes dedicated for the range.
• When cleaning your guns use disposal surgical type gloves which can be purchased inexpensively at Costco or at a drug store.
• When you’re finished wash your hand with soap and cold water. Cold water keeps your pores closed, therefore reducing absorption. At an outdoor range keep a container of special lead-removal wipes such as LeadOff from Hygenall in your range bag.

The company also makes wipes that you can take in your range bag.


• After visiting the range, particularly an indoor range, change your clothing, shoes, etc and take a shower.
• Don’t clean your guns on the kitchen table.
• After cleaning your guns use a special lead-removal soap. Hygenall mades a LeadOff version of hand soap that’s excellent.
• Reloaders should consider switching to plated bullets, which are less expensive than jacketed and in most instances, just as accurate.


The LeadOff Option


LeadOff removes Lead Oxide (PbO) better than ordinary soap because it’s active ingredient, Isostearamidopropyl Morpholine Lactate (ISML) has a positive electrical charge and bonds with the PbO which is negative. Regular anionic soaps work by removing natural skin oil which containts the “dirt”.

PbO and other heavy metals do not clean off like dirt because the lead oxide sticks through a static charge on the skin. ISML has been used a long time in the formulation of cleansing products, shampoos, hair sprays and other hair products.

I use their surface cleaner to wipe down my bench on a regular basis.


They offer three products, Foaming Cleaning and Decontamination Soap in a convenient dispenser, a disposable wipe that comes in a canister (that you can slip in your bag) and a Wipe on-Wipe off, Non-Porous Surface Cleaner that is perfect for the reloading bench at home.


All have have a pleasant, non chemical smell that will remove any nasty odor coming from solvents and the like your hands or your bench.

I found them easy to use and just as importantly offered a sense of sense of security.

Wearing surgical gloves is ideal when you’re cleaning your firearms.

If you’re a devoted shooter and concerned at all that you might be exposing yourself to high lead levels, I would have your blood tested the next time you have blood work. It’s better to know in order to stay on top of things.

In the meantime, keep those surgical gloves on when you reload or clean your firearms and douse your hands with Lead-Off.

Hawaii International Film Festival offers platform to launch authentic Polynesian films

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During the past two years, when tourism in the Aloha State imploded, digital media was one of the few shining stars in our beleaguered economy. The Honolulu International Film Festival is a key component in expanding this sector.

By providing a watering hole for local film makers, writers, actors, and directors it has become a vital element to bring Polynesian themed works to the world.

Case and point were two films that premiered at HIFF last month.

Sina ma Tinirau (Sina and Tinirau) is an animated shot from Vilsoni Hereniko.

The first was an animated short, Sina ma Tinirau (Sina and Tinirau) from Vilsoni (aka Vili) Hereniko. a Honolulu-based filmmaker and Professor at the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai’i. Vili, who hails from Rotuma a Polynesian outlier in the Fiji archipelago, says “Sina ma Tinirau is an ancient, oral tale that has endured the test of time because it embodies our sensibilities, worldviews, and aesthetics as Polynesians.”

It’s narrated in English with some (subtitled) dialogue in Rotuman, which lends an authenticity to the story.

A prince (Tinirau), who is cursed to become an eel, must win the love of a beautiful woman (Sina) to become human again. He gifts her with his body in the form of a coconut palm in a seductive display of courtship. The film is narrated in English with some dialogue in Rotuman, that is subtitled. This lends an authenticity to the story.


Vilsoni (aka Vili) Hereniko. a Honolulu-based filmmaker and Professor at the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai’i

At first blush, it sounds like a conventional romantic love story between a man and a woman.

However, beneath the surface, there’s a lot more going on.

Hereniko explained, “Sina and Tinirau share an unconditional, Christ-like love exemplified by forgiveness. It’s as central to our culture as the Crucifixion of Jesus would be in the West.”

The myth also explores origins of the Polynesian tree of life (the coconut palm) and, as Hereniko explains, “Polynesian prejudice against black skin.” “Racism”, he said, “is not confined to one race.”

This particular legend was passed down from Hereniko’s father on his home island of Rotuma as a child. As traditional society in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific “modernizes”, this style oral transmission is diminishing so we are fortunate that Hereniko has leveraged technology and his own creativity to recreate the legend on film.

Sina attempts to protects her friend Tinirau (the eel) from her wrath of her brothers.

Hereniko’s exploration of Polynesian mythology is an eye-opener on many levels. His insights are of importance not only to local people or people of Polynesian ancestry but relevant to everyone. At the very least I could see Sina and Tinirau incorporated into the Department of Education’s curriculum.

Hereniko’s mission is clearly to make the wisdom of traditional Polynesia accessible to the rest of us.

The project, which was funded by grants from the University of Hawaii and European Research Council, was a collaborative effort between several UH faculty at the ACM and their animation students.

Return to Pukapuka

The other Polynesian themed work that hit home for me was The Island in Me, a documentary by Gemma Cubero del Barrio, a Spanish/American documentary director and producer. She takes us to Pukapuka, a remote atoll with four hundred inhabitants.

The film traces the lives of two women, Amelia Hokulea Borofsky and Johnny Frisbie, (both Honolulu residents) who lived there and return home after decades away. Borofsky, the daughter of anthropologist Robert Borofsky lived in Pukapuka in the mid 1970’s while Frisbie, daughter of author Dean Frisbie, was there in the late 1930s.

Johnny Frisbie, one of the subjects of “The Island in Me”, back in her birthplace, Pukapuka

Despite the difference in generations, the common ground of Pukapuka is key to their personal journeys. Amelia is anxious to find the key to her childhood trauma and Johnny needs to visit her brother, Charlie, who she hasn’t seen in 30 years, one last time.

We learn filmmaker Gemma Cubero del Barrio has her own reasons to visit Pukapuka, and as she explained to me, became a reluctant subject of her own film. (You’ll have to see the film to find out).

Cubero does a masterful job balancing a number of themes—memory, identity, trauma and motherhood just to name a few.

Perhaps the film’s highlight is the intimate portrait of Johnny, a formidable, wise woman and author in her own right. Her book Miss Ulysses of Puka-Puka, first published in 1948 (and recently republished) is an account of her life on Pukapuka. It was the first published literary work by a Pacific Islander author. Her life is the stuff of novels. During a hurricane her father literally tied her and her siblings to a Tamanu tree on the atoll of Suwarrow. The island, not more than 6 feet high was swept by waves and tying the kids to the tree saved their lives.

Gemma Cubero del Barrio, a Spanish/American documentary director and producer of “The Island in Me”.

The film is also a “South Seas” ethnography of sorts. We get up close and personal with the Pukapukans, at home, at church, fishing, and of course, husking coconuts. To her credit Cubero tells it like it is. There is no phony romanticism or sentimentality projected on the indigenous people.

As Cubero explained, Pukapuka is a complex place. However, what she came to realize was deceptively simple and genuine. “Pukapukans welcomed us,” she told me. What’s more she said, “they see thru you, and they are open hearted.”  

She told me that the locals treated Amelia as a Pukapukan and her desire to return to the remote island was so “deeply rooted” and represented as genuine a sentiment as any Pukapukan. “She is so loved by them,” said Cubero,” because she represents their experience”.

Amelia Hokulea Borofsky, back to her roots in Pukapuka

Both Sina ma Tinirau and the The Island in Me were hatched, produced, edited, and created in the Aloha State.

It’s also of note that both films were nominated at HIFF for top awards–“Best Short” and “Best Feature”.

As Hereniko pointed out, “In the world of cinema, to be nominated on a very short list of selected films that the festival regards as the best, is a big deal!”. (His film also was awarded “Outstanding achievement in animation” award at the Los Angeles International Film Festival).

With HIFF as a launching pad, it’s clear Hawaii can be an incubator and a platform for Polynesian-themed digital media.

The upshot is that not only can Hawaii people produce films, they can produce award winning films.

It’s only the beginning.

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Top Photo: Pukupuka youth in a traditional wrestling match

Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, covers digital media and is the creator of fijiguide.com. He can be reached at Robertfredkay@gmail.com.