Once Upon a Rebate
by Tom Yamachika, President, Tax Foundation Hawaii
Once upon a time there was a Governor Dorothy of Hawaii who looked out over her domain and said, “Gee, we’ve got lots of money this year! The economy has come roaring back so we’ve got a big chunk of tax revenue, and we also have a bunch of Federal aid funds.”
So, she proposed giving some of it back to the taxpayers. “Let’s send $100 to every man, woman, and child,” he said, and she sent a bill to both houses of the Legislature to allow her to do that (Senate Bill 3100 and House Bill 2132).
“We’ve got to be careful,” said Budget Director Lion. “We still have federal restrictions in place, and if we don’t do this right the Feds will take back their aid money.”
“We have lots of unmet needs,” said Representative Tin Man. “Now might be a good time to catch up on these many projects we’ve been putting off.”
“I agree,” said Senator Scarecrow. “Have you seen the maintenance backlogs for our schools, university, and airport? It’s terrible. And by the way, I agree with Budget Director Lion.”
So, Governor Dorothy’s two bills died in the Legislature.
“But wait,” Representative Tin Man said after some time had passed. “Maybe this rebate idea wasn’t such a bad idea after all. When I run for re-election this year, I want to show people that I’ve done something good for them.”
“I agree,” said Senator Scarecrow. “Let’s revive the rebate proposal, and we’ll give $300 to each man, woman, and child in a household making $100,000 or less, and $100 to everyone else.”
“But the Governor’s bills died,” said Representative Tin Man.
“Who cares?” replied Senator Scarecrow. “He’s termed out, so he isn’t running for re-election. You and I are, not to mention all of our colleagues. We can mark up another bill to accomplish the same thing and the Legislature can take credit for the idea!”
“Okay,” said Representative Tin Man. “I’ll have my Finance Committee mark up Senate Bill 514 and we can work on it in conference. That bill was from last year’s session, but it’s perfectly okay to dust it off and put it through. It deals with the same subject matter, so no one can call it a ‘gut-and-replace’ maneuver!”
So, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 514, but with most of the amounts blank.
(Toto has complained about bills with lots of blanks before, in “Blankety Blank” and “The Future of Blankety Blank.” But people only listen to Toto sometimes.)
“Hold on,” said the Wicked Witch of the Left. “I can see $300 checks going out to help our working families, but why are we coddling the wealthy with the $100 checks? They don’t need or deserve those funds, especially when they are needed for other things. Let’s get rid of that part of the bill.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said the Wicked Witch of the Right. “Given the amount of the budget surplus that has been reported to us as taxpayers, you should be looking at $1,300 for each of Hawaii’s taxpayers, not just a paltry $300. How are you going to stimulate the economy with a pittance like that? Let’s revamp that part of the bill.”
“And what about the federal restrictions?” moaned Budget Director Lion. “Has anyone been listening to me?”
In the next few weeks, legislators are going to be looking at this issue among others in conference committees, where no public testimony is needed or wanted, and where the public doesn’t even see the legislators meeting until it’s time to announce the result of their deliberations.
Then we will know what goes in the blanks, and the end of the next chapter of this Frivolous Fable. Will the taxpayers, or some of them, get rebate checks?
By the way, this Frivolous Fable is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to folks living or dead is … well … fictional.