State Legislature: Budget work is only half of it

While Hawai‘i’s legislative leadership is crowing loudly about their proclivity in spending the COVID-19 disaster money, balancing the state budget and avoiding public-worker layoffs and salary cuts, there is far too much still going undone.

The 2020 Legislature is expected to adjourn very soon rather than tackle the many additional challenges facing our collective community. Essentially, we are being told that the help and solutions needed now must wait until May of 2021.

Legislative leadership no doubt will claim “there’s no money” or “it’s a federal problem and there’s nothing we can do about it,” or “this can wait until next year.” The truth is that with a little creativity and just a touch of political courage, there is much the state Legislature can do about a wide host of issues facing us NOW.

Space does not allow me the room to list all that Hawai‘i’s legislative leadership could accomplish today simply by adjusting state tax policy, but for starters, here are some low hanging fruit:

• Eliminate the state income tax currently due on unemployment benefits and the $600 per month “Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.” This is the least our state government can do to help make up for the pain caused by the gross mismanagement of the unemployment application and implementation process;

• Make “rent reductions and unpaid rent” a deductible expense for tax purposes, thus rewarding landlords who forgo or voluntarily reduce their rents to long-term tenants. Landlords would then receive a tax benefit above and beyond simply not being taxed on the income;

• Create a punitive sized (as in very big) new tax on lending institutions (and related businesses, law firms, collection companies, etc.) that institute foreclosure proceedings on any Hawai‘i properties for a period of X years following the start of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders;

• Eliminate the general excise tax on fresh food (not prepared food or processed food) and long-term-rental income, thus reducing the cost of living for all residents while supporting local agriculture and healthy meals. The term “fresh food” is utilized here to avoid interstate commerce and tariff restrictions. Obviously, both “fresh food” and “long-term-rental income” would need to be defined in law to maximize the public benefits;

• Support small farms that actually sell food for local consumption by exempting them from collecting or paying any GET whatsoever (on purchases or sales). This effectively reduces the cost of all of their expenses (equipment, seed, water, etc.) by 4.5%, and gives their agricultural products a similar price advantage in the marketplace;

• Implement a significant (as in punitive), short-term increase in the transient accommodations tax to further deter incoming visitors until appropriate screening and testing protocols can be developed and implemented. The tax could then be reduced but ultimately utilized as a “throttle” of sorts to control the number of visitors according to each island’s carrying capacity. This basic concept was presented by Tim Halliday, the chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Hawai‘i Manoa in the online news publication, Civil Beat;

• Dramatically increase the tax on rental cars while retaining kama‘aina rates. This would result in less traffic on the highways as visitors would spend more time within designated resort areas. Funding realized from this tax should be dedicated to supporting mass transit.

There are many ways that Hawaii’s legislative leaders could amend state tax policy to make life better and more equitable during these COVID-19 times. In addition, there is a long, wide-ranging list of public-policy initiatives that have already undergone 50% of the 2020 legislative session. This work will be effectively dumped in the trash should legislative leadership decide to adjourn without completing the task before them.

Now is not the time to do the minimal, close up the shop and go home. Hawai‘i deserves better.


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

  1. randy kansas May 20, 2020 5:36 am Reply

    1. and raise a large tax or fee for folks that drop off dogs and cats at the pound and want us to pay for their care…… and throw in a pit bull tax while you are at it…
    2. raise the price, punitive, for all non-organic fertilizer and bug spray used for recreation, residential, government, golf course, resort type purposes;
    3. lay off 10-20 percent of the government work force…could probably run the whole state with less warm bodies;
    4. raise/tax the price of beer and cigs…punitive amount….
    5. require the elected officials, to wear body cams from 6 am to 10pm, like the police do, so we can see and monitor what they do all day…..
    6. use the bar codes on food packaging, to regulate what EBT (welfare) cards are used for and maybe even limit the amount of sugar and fat purchased, using the ingredients embedded into the data…
    7. tie state databases together and use the gas pumps to also collect fines, sell car insurance and collect back child support…add that calculation at the pump with proof of payment or at least partial payment printed on the gas reciept….no pay extra, then no gas..
    8. put the homeless, prisoners or low offenders to work picking up trash or trimming the medians in exchange for food/soap/water…do something !!
    9. publish the name and photo of everyone on welfare, each month, in the online/paper…
    10. drug test, each quarter…every 3 months…., for #9 above….and maybe sterilize also, if too many kids on the payroll…

    hmmm….this is soooo easy, maybe i need to run for office !

    haha ! just kidding…sorta

  2. RG DeSoto May 20, 2020 9:37 am Reply

    “• Implement a significant (as in punitive), short-term increase in the transient accommodations tax to further deter incoming visitors until appropriate screening and testing protocols can be developed and implemented.”
    Once again, utter nonsense from Hooser. The TVRs are already being punished. They have been targeted and shut down and yet are still paying the higher property tax rate imposed on them. Brilliant! Prohibit them from using their property as a vacation rental, thereby destroying their source of income…all the while charging them a tax rate that is based on them actually using the property commercially.
    Only in Hooser world–that is government world–does this seem like a sensible thing to do. Disgraceful.
    RG DeSoto

    1. Where are you May 20, 2020 2:02 pm Reply

      Does the Soto live in his own kingdom, or in the community with others? The writings always seem to be extreme libertarian to the point that “I got mine… get off my lawn” is all he repeats.

      No one person can live on the island alone. All deserve some base levels of respect. Those with ample means can afford to guarantee that base for the rest – and the rest also chip in – it’s not like the bulk of people milk the system as lazy dolts.

  3. Dt May 20, 2020 8:28 pm Reply

    I am glad Hoosier doesn’t do the county budget. Please keep him away from any accounting including basic accounting. Thanks!

  4. WestsideResident May 21, 2020 6:47 am Reply

    Well said!

    The bailout is what they are waiting for, then they can proceed to misspend it.

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