By Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona Jr.
With more than half of the 2010 legislative session gone and fewer than 30 business days to go, the Legislature should focus on enacting bills that will improve government operations and strengthen our economy — not increasing taxes.
Many key proposals that could save the state precious general funds have either stalled or not been heard in House and Senate committees. Instead of increasing the general excise tax, the Legislature should cut inefficiencies and spend within our means to ensure economic recovery for Hawaii.
Among sensible measures the Legislature is failing to consider:
· Require all state employees to directly deposit their wages in a financial institution, saving the cost to print and distribute paychecks.
· Allow state boards and commissions to use teleconferencing or videoconferencing to hold meetings.
· Require arbitration panels to consider the state's fiscal solvency in labor negotiations.
· Allow public employee unions to establish alternative workers compensation programs, like private employee unions, through an agreement with the state.
These proposals would save money and improve government efficiency.
However, some legislators continue to push for an increase of the general excise tax of up to 25 percent, which would impede any economic recovery. Unlike a sales tax, an excise tax must be paid on all goods and services every time they change hands, from the producer to the cargo ship to the retail store. And by the time a product reaches a consumer, these taxes have accumulated at each step and been added to the price tag.
Hawaii is already one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation. Not only this, but our residents are facing rising rent prices, property taxes, electricity bills, gasoline prices, water and sewer fees.
During these challenging economic times, we need to encourage our small businesses to grow and flourish, not burden them with higher taxes and unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.
That is why our administration is instituting the Hawaii Premium Plus program, which begins in May, to promote job creation by offering assistance in reducing the cost of employee health care coverage. The program is designed to lower our unemployment rate by a full percentage point by encouraging businesses to create nearly 6,500 jobs.
The state can also implement cost-savings measures that will allow us to help more low-income families. For example, we could save millions of dollars in drug costs for psychotropic medicines by allowing the use of appropriate generic medications in lieu of brand-name prescriptions.
By cutting costs and improving efficiencies, the state could use more funds for education, health, human services and related high-priority needs.
While change is never easy, we simply cannot afford to operate in the same way we did before. It is time for the House and Senate to recognize this and join us in implementing common sense, responsible savings.