by Lowell L. Kalapa, Tax Foundation of Hawaii
Despite the campaign rhetoric lawmakers chant over and over during the campaign season that Hawaii voters can trust them as representatives of their constituents, it seems that there is a growing cynicism that lawmakers cannot be trusted.
This cynicism became apparent in a recent hearing at the House Finance Committee on a bill that would have allowed the consolidation of funds raised by various independent “friends of the library” to be handled by a centralized fund located within the library services section of the department of education. It seems that a memorandum of agreement has been under discussion over the past year which allows participants in the consolidated fund to fundraise on the premises of the public libraries while those who choose not to throw their money into the consolidated fund are not allowed to fundraise on library premises.
This is an affront to those who have been banned from fundraising on public library property, as they believe that they are helping local libraries. However, the reason for their resistance to consolidate their hard earned fund-raising dollars is that they believe that as a special fund it could be the target of a future legislative raid and said as much.
That accusation is truly a sad commentary of how much the public has lost confidence in lawmakers to the extent that they do not trust lawmakers to keep their mitts off special funds. It should also serve as a very scary warning to lawmakers that they have lost the trust of their constituents. While the raids of special funds is the object of this distrust, the other part of the problem is that many of these special funds should have never been established in the first place.
Many of the newly created special funds over the past twenty years were repositories to hide what had been general funds and then designated them for a specific use or purpose. In other cases, fees were created as a ruse to increase the government take from the pocketbooks of unsuspecting taxpayers without calling the new fees taxes. Yet another reason was that many of the programs that have been funded with fees that underwrite these special funds were not of a high enough priority to garner an appropriation of general funds.
An example of the latter effort was an increase in the marriage license fee to fund domestic violence programs. Somehow lawmakers believe they justified some sort of relationship between being married and domestic violence. Similarly, increases in the state’s conveyance tax on all real property transactions went to fund affordable housing and programs of the natural area reserve fund. In the case of this latter program, it is now the possible beneficiary of the proposed single-use checkout bag fee sitting in the legislature.
Because it is the beneficiary of a special fund, the program doesn’t get the kind of close scrutiny that programs like social services and education receive because they are financed out of the state general fund. No review has been conducted by the State Auditor to see if the monies in special funds are being used efficiently and wisely.
Thus, there is no question that taxpayers/voters have grown cynical about their lawmakers. When the top priority is how they will spend the money they have followed only by the priority to raise even more money, taxpayers ought to be afraid and hang on with great fervor to their pocketbooks. For example, at a recent hearing on establishing an environmental workforce it was pointed out that a very similar statute was enacted more than a decade ago and had become dormant for the lack of funding. However, the statute remains on the books and ONLY an appropriation was needed to revive it.
Well, once the subject of the appropriation was put on the table, the sharks began to feed, attempting to carve up what would soon be a pot of money that this program or that group could use. Feeding at the trough is a more accurate description of what followed as group after group came to the table declaring that funds were needed to revive what is known as the environmental workforce.
So is there any doubt that the taxpaying public is growing more and more disenchanted with lawmakers who appear only interested in spending more and more public dollars to sate their respective constituencies? At a time when families are finding it even more difficult to survive and are setting priorities for their shrinking pay checks, it is no wonder that they grow even more cynical as lawmakers fail to set priorities for education and social services with their tax dollars.
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