Lowering the cost of living, supporting agriculture — a twofer

Politicians and lawmakers often lay the blame for their perceived impotence on the nature of dealing with “complex issues and intractable challenges.”

This is kind of true, but not really.

Many if not most of our states most serious challenges, can be resolved or at least greatly alleviated, with literally the stroke of a pen.

Some small changes to current policy could have huge beneficial effects, with many solutions costing zero not zillions of dollars.

Most of the issues, and their proposed solutions have been around for decades, debated, studied, and deferred, ad nauseam.

Changes in “public policy” can often be made with zero impacts on the state budget. Simply changing tax policy, by reducing the amount of taxes now paid by local residents and increasing the taxes paid by absentee owners, foreign investors, very high income individuals and visitors is one tangible example.

With the stroke of a pen, our state Legislature could lower the cost of living, for all of us who live here.

But to find a majority in the House and the Senate with the common purpose and drive needed to actually stroke that pen, is another story.

Of course, with every action done by the legislature, someone’s ox is gored. In the case of lowering the taxes of local residents while increasing taxes on the wealthy and elite, the wealthy and elite will scream very loud.

There are few policy initiatives that will make everyone happy. In this case making positive changes to help local residents is our priority. The fear mongering by those who will pay more though will be palpable, and big business and big money will align in opposition.

“We could do this but …” There is always a “but” standing in the way of progress. There is always fear of the unknown, and there are always excuses for the inaction.

One would think that if politicians could lower the cost of living for hard working local residents AND increase food self sufficiency while supporting local agriculture — they would be tripping over themselves to make it happen.

It’s only complicated for those who want it to be complicated. Trust me on this, it’s not.

With the stroke of a pen, the Legislature could remove the 4.5% General Excise Tax (GET), including county surcharge, on fresh non-processed food and long-term rents. Voila! The effective cost of living for local residents is significantly reduced, PLUS the market for fresh locally grown food is increased.

That’s fresh non-processed food. We are not talking fast food, canned food, boxed food or restaurant food. You get the picture — fresh, healthy and hopefully locally grown food is what we are talking.

And long-term rents mean long-term rents and NOT short-term vacation rentals.

Ideally, but yes it does now get more complicated — the GET could be removed from other “essential” items such as toilet paper, diapers, soap, toothpaste and other personal hygiene products.

And those minuscule but important tax credits that currently apply to low income working people? Those need to remain as well. No bait and switch to the detriment of the 48%, please.

The “lost income” to the state could be made up by a modest increase to the GET on all other non-essential items.

Hawaii has 1,400,000 permanent residents, 48% of whom are one pay check away from being on the streets. 10,000,000 tourists are expected to visit Hawaii next year. Our visitors and others who can well afford it, need to pay a larger share of the GET, and local residents need to pay less.

Think about it as a public policy “twofer” — food and economic justice via the stroke of a pen.

What a day that would be. Imagine a Legislature that lowered the cost of living for local residents, and helped our small farmers — all in a single legislative session.

It’s doable you know. We are not talking pie in the sky, fantasy type make believe policy. This could be real and could be done in a single year — if a majority in the Legislature wanted it.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. Shelly December 4, 2019 8:01 am Reply

    Farmers need affordable housing- hope county will allow ADU on agricultural zoned land in certain areas with some qualifying conditions,,,,

  2. Debra Kekaualua December 4, 2019 5:42 pm Reply

    House and Senate already stroke their pen, when they set up shop. H&S should consider, Game Over, as should occupying military complex that is On Notice to cease and desist.

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