BY RON BOYER – The global financial crisis of the last two years has been hard on all of us – individuals, families, and businesses. Economic stagnation has made it harder than ever for the backbone of Hawaii’s economy – small businesses – to turn a profit in a state where the high cost of living and onerous tax policies have always challenged the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of our business owners.
The best way that government can help foster a healthy business climate – so as to create jobs and strengthen the economy – is to ease regulations and reduce the cost of fees and taxes. While more can be done, especially with regard to taxes, there has been much progress over the course of the Lingle-Aiona Administration.
The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) has made it more convenient, affordable, and easier to do business in Hawaii by initiating or improving operations in a number of key areas. Our Business Registration Division has greatly expanded online services, including implementation in 2004 of Hawaii Business Express (HBE), a one-stop, web-based business information service. This resource saves new businesses, especially those on the neighbor islands, time, effort and money by enabling them to register with the appropriate government agencies (DCCA, Department of Taxation, Department of Labor and the IRS) in one online transaction, without having to stand in line or mail in paperwork. Since HBE started up, more than 70,000 people have made use of its services, forming more than 19,000 new companies in Hawaii. In 2009, we initiated “Go Green” business registration filing protocols, eliminating the distribution of paper annual filings, saving $24,000 in postage and 560 pounds of paper per year.
Our Professional and Vocational Licensing Division has also significantly improved our online customer services. Online license renewals continue to grow every year. This year, for example, of the 9,512 contractors who renewed by the September 30th deadline, 75% renewed online. This compares to a 59% online renewal rate at the last biennial renewal in 2008 and a 25% online renewal rate in 2006. In April, over 97% of all architects, land surveyors, and professional engineers renewed online while 94% of electrologists, mortgage brokers and solicitors, occupational therapists, physical therapists and real estate brokers and salespersons renewed online in 2008.
We’ve cut fees, too. DCCA has reduced fees and assessments affecting businesses by approximately $50 million since January 1, 2003. Among the fees reduced (some permanently, some temporarily), we’ve waived exam fees and related expenses for financial institutions and escrow depositories; cut online professional licensing renewal fees by 10-25%; slashed fees for certificates of good standing by 80%; and applied a 25-50% fee reduction for online payment for document registration/annual filings, and trademark, trade name and service mark registration.
Our Insurance Division has helped businesses by proposing successful new laws that allow association health plans (2005) and require insurance for sole proprietors (2008). And they’ve increased the availability and helped hold down the cost of insurance, benefiting businesses and their customers by approving a cumulative 51.2% rate reduction from 2004 to 2010 in loss costs for workers’ compensation rates thanks to fewer claims being made, as a result of safer workplaces. This was one of the biggest drops of any state in the nation.
None of this would have been possible without the leadership of Governor Lingle and the dedicated men and women of DCCA who exemplify the spirit of public service. While I recognize that more remains to be done, I want to acknowledge the considerable progress that has already been made!
Ron Boyer is the Director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs