We like the tax break, but…

This blogger would first like to shout out to Civil Beat for distributing questions to the candidates and publishing them promptly. Furthermore, this blogger also wants to recognize that the questions being posed are relevant to what is happening currently, which leads to this piece – an observation of answers to one question.

A call by some in Hawaii to cut income taxes got heard. Income taxes for residents in Hawaii will be cut over the next 10 years.
PC: “ReadMySign” by AR McLin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In the set of questions, each candidate was asked, paraphrasing, what did you think of the recent state income tax cut that the Governor signed into law? More specifically, the question asked, “How do you feel about the massive income tax cut just approved by the Legislature and the governor? Do you have any concerns that it will force reductions in state services in the years to come?”

Now in a way, it’s a leading question, almost begging for an answer that fits the question. The interesting thing is that a lot of the candidates who submitted answers came back with nearly the same response,

“Yeah, I like it, but….”

The “but” part was largely about whether the state would be able to meet its financial obligations after the budget cuts take effect, potentially reducing the state’s revenue. This is a fair concern because if a household has less money coming in (for example, if a family member’s income is reduced or if someone starts a new job at a lower salary), there would naturally be worry about making ends meet.

In the case of the state, the worry is about whether essential services to the people would be affected. Some, like House District 20 candidate Tina Nakada Grandinetti, are saying that it will impact social services. Other candidates, such as House District 24 candidate Jillian Anderson, believe it will require the state to “do more with less”.

Here is the thing about both the focus of the question, and how some of the candidates answered it. For years, going back to the Ige administration, the state never faced a deficit. The last time this blogger remembers a crisis that would put the state into a budget deficit was during the Lingle, and going back more, the Cayetano administrations.

And both of those times, the books did get balanced through a combination of hacking the budget, changing retirement policy for state employees into the Employment Retirement System, and withholding spending to nonprofits.

One of the reasons why the Hawaii Legislature and its governor passed the income tax cut is because it determined that with proper accounting for what it needed, it was taking in too much. Now we wait to see if their accounting is accurate to accommodate the future.
PC: “Accounting” by 401(K) 2013 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

That has not been the case for several years. And all during that time the State hemmed and hawed at the idea that it had to give back surplus monies to the people when the state experienced a budget surplus. See Article VII, Section 6 of the Hawai‘i State Constitution.

It even got to the point where, in an amendment to that article, in 2010 and 2016, to move surplus monies to the rainy day or pension funds. The state, over the past decade, has done all three and still, there is money left over.

Yes, while the expenses for providing government services have increased, there was never any question about whether they would get paid. Now, with the tax cut, everyone is concerned about whether we can cover our bills.

This blogger finds that a bit alarmist and indicative of an underlying message whenever any of the candidates says, “I like it, but…”, in that they are also pointing the finger at the current legislature and its members, and saying point blank, “we don’t trust that you have considered all issues when you passed this bill.”

Are the candidates who said “We like the tax break, but…” going to get elected, and then as soon as they are seated, start expressing concerns about the state budget and moving towards reversing the recently passed tax breaks?

We will have to see. As a public service announcement, residents eligible to vote will get their ballots in the mail on or about the 23rd of July.