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Honolulu Lite

CHARLES MEMMINGER

Sunday, April 7, 2002


Designer taxes: Create a
special fund, then hijack it!

The successful raid by the Legislature on the Hurricane Relief Fund is just the beginning of a dynamic new way to fund government: personalized taxes.

Homeowners thought they were buying insurance when they were forced to cough up money for the Hurricane Relief Fund, when actually they were contributing to a new "designer tax," a special assessment imposed only against citizens who own homes.

When Gov. Cayetano and lawmakers saw that pile of money -- more than $200 million -- just sitting there collecting interest, not to mention dust, the temptation was just too great. Why streamline government, stamp out bureaucratic waste and tighten belts when there's money just begging to be spent?

Of course, officials say they are merely borrowing $55 million from the fund, but that explanation blows more hot air than Hurricane Iniki. When I was in high school, thugs used to accost you and say, "Hey, haole, I like borrow quarter."

While it sounded charming, in reality they weren't borrowing, they were taking, and they weren't taking a quarter, they were taking all your money. When it comes to the hurricane fund, the governor, who I suspect was a pretty tough customer in high school, essentially said, "Hey, homeowners, I like borrow $55 million." That money is bye-bye.

The governor's wife, Vicky, is getting into the hijacking game. (I guess you do have to watch out who you hang around with.) She wants people to finance another special fund, CarePlus. The name "CarePlus" refers, I think, to "We must provide elderly care, plus we want your money."

What makes these special funds so much fun is that they are actually new taxes, but they don't feel like it. You'd think that after the hurricane fund fiasco, nobody would be dumb enough to fall for any more, but you'd be wrong. Sources tell us that there is already a "Reverse Print Aloha Shirt Fund" being formed targeting anyone who shops at places like Reyn's. This fund purportedly is only to be used during fashion emergencies to offset catastrophic ironing bills.

The "Tobacco User Appreciation Fund" will be financed by an extra $5-per-pack "Aloha Assessment" on cigarettes as a way to thank those selfless, not to mention eventually lungless, people brave enough to keep smoking.

The "Wiki Wiki Wino Fund" targets drinkers who generally are too sloshed to know that they're paying for a bottle of rotgut. Also known as the "Liver Legal Defense Endowment," this cache of cash is expected to make the hurricane fund look like chump change.

The "Saturated Fat Fund" will be directed at overweight dumplings, the reasoning being that if they have enough money to supersize their french fry orders, they can afford to pay more taxes. In fact, the concept behind all these funds is that if you have any extra money to spend on trifles like a mortgage, food and water, the government rates a bigger cut of your moola-coola.

There is no end to targets for these designer taxes: golfers, manapua makers, the comatose ... you name it. Of course, there will be a fire wall protecting these funds, only to be breached in extraordinary circumstances, like when any three legislators meet or the governor feels like "borrowing" a few bucks.




Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com





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