When is changing your mind considered being flexible? When is it considered breaking a promise?
As a candidate, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie promised not to raise the General Excise Tax (GET) – a tax levied on wholesale, manufacturing, and retail goods, including food and medicine. It’s an unfair, pyramiding tax that forces us to pay taxes on the taxes we pay – but that’s another issue.
Released on August 18, 2010, Abercrombie’s “Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” boldly declared, “The General Excise Tax will not be raised. Given the public’s lost confidence in government, no reasonable argument can be made to raise the GET. Government will have to make better use of the revenues that it has and grow the economy if more revenues are needed.” On September 7, 2010 in a candidate forum, Abercrombie stated, “I’m against raising the GET tax, without equivocation.” The next day in a KITV interview, he confirmed, “We’re not going to raise the GET tax.”
By March 9, 2011, Abercrombie decided that “We’ll just see what transpires.” His spokesman explained, “If a measure to raise the GET passes out of the Legislature because other elements of his plan are not adopted, he will of course consider it as the people’s will.” A week later, on March 16, 2011, Abercrombie admitted that he is “flexible” about raising the GET. His staff clarified, “Raising the rate of the general excise tax is not currently being considered” (emphasis added).
Perhaps succumbing to public criticism, on March 30, 2011 Abercrombie stated that he does not support a GE tax increase, and that we can balance the budget “All without doing the GET.” He said that a GET increase is a bad idea financially and politically – “It won’t wash with people,” he admitted.
I hesitated to write this, because Better Hawaii is focused on challenging people to find solutions, not complain about problems. But in the end, I think that it’s important and worthwhile to discuss when it’s okay to change your mind. I think it depends on whether there is new information or revised circumstances.
So what made Abercrombie re-think his stance on raising the GET?
How much new information was available? We don’t know what new information Abercrombie received as governor; we only know the information released the previous governor. But we already knew about the falling tax collections (for some reason, the government calls this “revenue”), the rising costs of sewer and road repairs, and the problem of unfunded pensions.
How has the situation (the economy) changed? Abercrombie could not have predicted the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March that has led to declining tourism, business slow-downs (for example, the Kona Village Resort has closed indefinitely), and costly repairs. But certainly, Abercrombie knew that we still have higher-than-normal unemployment, lower salaries, furloughs, and a Honolulu rail system that is on track to cost billions of dollars.
Has everything already been done to balance the budget? Abercrombie may think he has done as much as he can. But all I’ve heard about are raiding the Hurricane and Rainy Day funds and programs that Abercrombie wants to “restore.”
On this issue, raising the GET to pay for government, is Abercrombie justified in changing his mind? Do you support or oppose his “flexible” thinking? Should he have changed his mind a second time, back to his original stance?