7 issues to analyze in the 2015 Hawaii legislature

Legislature Session 2015

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature opened last week on January 21. We’re in for 16 weeks of discussion, debate, testimony, and compromise until the legislature adjourns on May 7.

* If there’s an issue that you feel strongly about, please contact your state senator and representative by phone, mail, or email.

* To track specific measures, receive email notifications of public hearings, and submit testimony, you can register for a free account with the Hawaii Legislature.

* To find out what your legislators are working on, check the list of leadership and committee assignments.

January 29, just a few days from now, is the last day to introduce bills in the legislature. Here are just seven issues that I hope to see debated with taxpayers in mind during the 2015 legislative session:

1. Taxes: Keep the Internet tax-free. I strongly oppose the Streamlined Sales Tax Project. I think that it is unconstitutional for two reasons: it taxes interstate commerce and it is taxation without representation (businesses don’t have a voice in Hawaii). It also places an unfair burden on businesses that would be forced to collect sales taxes, keep more records, and fill out more paperwork and tax returns. It is one more hurdle for an entrepreneur who is just getting started. It is especially alarming for Hawaii, because the Internet allows us to buy goods that are not available at a reasonable price. Beware: in the 2014 legislature, HB1651, HB2135, and HB2507 attempted to require us to pay taxes on Internet purchases!

2. Taxes: Create a flat tax. Taxes should be simple and easy to understand. We shouldn’t have to hire a “professional” to do our taxes, and we shouldn’t live in fear of an IRS audit. In the 2014 legislature, HB1835 proposed that the Department of Taxation develop a plan to implement a flat income tax.

3. Government: Enact term limits for state legislators. I believe that term limits could encourage more people to get involved in politics. It would support more citizen legislators, not more career politicians. It could reduce the “wait your turn” to run for office culture. It could balance out the built-in advantage that incumbents have in name recognition and fundraising. It could make committee assignments more democratic, without the influence of seniority. In the 2014 legislature, HB2417 attempted to limit state representatives to five consecutive full terms; and SB2144 attempted to limit state senators to three consecutive 4-year terms and state representatives to six consecutive 2-year terms.

4. Government: Create a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature. I would like to see a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature that would put the focus on issues, not party affiliation. I think that a small state like Hawaii would be better served with legislators who represent smaller areas, instead of senators and representatives for larger districts. In the 2014 legislature, SB2154 would have created a unicameral legislature, which should consist of 51 members serving 4-year terms (same number of legislators, but no duplication of neighborhood representation); but there were no proposals for a nonpartisan legislature.

5. Education: Preschool cannot be free. I believe that we need to improve the K-12 public school system we have now, before asking the Department of Education to take responsibility for another grade level. We need to be realistic: all children are not ready for preschool; and we cannot, and maybe should not, offer free preschool for all children. In the 2014 legislature, HB1700 passed, which allocated $3 million for pre-kindergarten programs in fiscal year 2015.

6. Healthcare: Why do we need the Hawaii Health Connector? Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of uninsured residents – just 7.7% of the population in 2010, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Yet instead of targeting just the 7.7% of residents who are not covered, the Affordable Care Act has forced everyone to change their health insurance plans – and possibly pay more for the privilege, by adding a “sustainability fee” (tax) to keep the Hawaii Health Connector going. In the 2014 legislature, HB2529 HD3 SD1 and SB3050 SD1 proposed a 0.345% tax on health insurance premiums; HB2588 and SB2471 proposed a 0.67% tax on health insurance premiums purchased through the Hawaii Health Connector.

7. Transportation: Slow down the Honolulu Rail Transit money train. Honolulu has spent over $1.2 billion on rail transit; and has collected over $1.3 billion in GET surcharge revenue from Honolulu taxpayers, according to the “Honolulu Rail Transit Project Monthly Progress Report, November 2014.” Yet we don’t know how much it will cost to build, we haven’t collected as much tax revenue as expected, and we don’t know how we will maintain it. In the 2014 legislature, there was some call for tax relief: SB275 would discontinue the county surcharge for rail transit. However, HB1606 and SB2115 would allow counties to increase the surcharge from 0.5% to 1.0%.

What issues do you think we need to address in 2015 Hawaii legislature? What matters to you?

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