Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Hawaii is a little shop
of (tax) horrors

As America's "Boutique State," Hawaii is the most expensive place in the country to live. And it should be that way.

When you go to one of those cute little specialty shops tucked away on an expensive backstreet of Waikiki, you can't expect to pay Costco prices for precious little knick-knacks and doo-dads.

On the mainland, New York is the bustling center of commerce; Florida is one big gated community and retirement home; the South a rugged, hot rural zone of chiggers, cheap booze and firecracker stands; California is one big strip mall; the Northwest is a forest preserve; and Hawaii ... well, Hawaii is that expensive little boutique state that you visit when you have some spare cash to blow.

Except for those of us who live here. We have to pay premium prices for frivolous knick-knacks and doo-dads such as food, clothing and shelter. And we pay taxes. Taxes are what keeps Hawaii lookin' good, attracting the New York business types, the chigger-scratching yokels and the California car dealers to our little specialty state.

The U.S. Census Bureau just released a report confirming what anyone who lives here knows: that Hawaii residents pay more per person in state taxes than any other state. The Hawaii state income tax form could be edited down to just two lines: 1. How much money did you make in the preceding taxable year? 2. Send it to us.

But then we wouldn't have any money to pay real estate taxes, gas taxes, excise taxes and the various assessments, duties, tariffs and levies that are the cost of living on a tiny speck of land in the Pacific.

I'M NOT COMPLAINING. Anyone who moves to Hawaii voluntarily should be soaked for every penny they possess. I could be running a firecracker shack on the Texas/Oklahoma border, living in a double-wide trailer and figuring how many seconds it takes to sprint from the kitchen to the tornado bunker in the back yard. I choose to be skinned financially in order to live in the most beautiful place on earth.

I do, however, feel some sympathy for the original inhabitants of the islands who didn't ask for their home to be turned into a mecca for the moneyed classes.

State taxes should be pro-rated, based on how many generations of your family has been in Hawaii. That won't happen because Hawaii needs to squeeze as much money as possible out of every living inhabitant, and, come to think about it, the dead ones, too.

Although we pay more in state taxes than anyone else, it could be worse and probably will be. One day we'll pay a county tax, town tax, neighborhood tax, street-you-live-on tax and "bed-you-sleep-in" tax.

Face it. When it comes to states, Hawaii is like a high-maintenance girlfriend (or cross-dressing boyfriend). States like West Virginia, New Jersey and Mississippi can plod around without makeup in pajamas and hair curlers. Hawaii has to look good in the morning.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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