The tax even politicians loath
SILENT prayers of thanks are mumbled by state politicians as they walk by City Hall.
There, except for the gods of politics, go state representatives, senators, the governor and lieutenant governor, who all don't have to deal with the property tax mess confronting the city.
The path for the City Council and Mayor Mufi Hannemann shows no safe way out.
For three years property tax collections have soared. The city now is taking in $125 million more than last year.
In terms of a politician's life expectancy, there is no more dangerous tax than a property tax.
There is a very simple theory about taxes -- the other guy pays. Economists call it exporting, but at its most basic, the idea is get someone else, preferably someone you don't know and who can't vote against you, to pay the tax.
This is why politicians have hotel taxes, tourist taxes, airport taxes, taxi and rental car taxes. These taxes are paid by folks who are just stopping by. Tourists don't vote while on vacation, nor do they have much alternative to paying the taxes for their room and car.
So if the best tax is levied on the faceless, the worst tax is one slapped on your neighbors. There is a special place in political hell reserved for campaigning officeholders going door-to- door right after the home's owner paid a 25 to 100 percent property tax increase.
Politicians know that those with roots in the community, those who feel they have a stake in their own special neighborhood and those who have lived in the same place for years, such as homeowners, are the people most likely to vote.
Unlike excise tax fluctuations, which are caused by the consumer spending more or less money, property taxes rise when your property is worth more. Even though you don't sell the house and the only thing you see increasing is the nut grass in the lawn, you are still forced to pay more.
During times of small property value fluctuations, politicians have a sweet deal. Hannemann and City Council budget chairwoman Ann Kobayashi don't have to lift a finger or endanger a political life by simply collecting a tad more money.
But when the housing market goes nuts and housing values double in two years, then property taxes soar and the Honolulu Hale pols are in trouble if they don't lower the bill.
Others argue that because the spendthrift Harris administration pushed the debt to $3.2 billion the city needs even more money. But just like there has never been a bureaucrat who didn't need three more secretaries and new computers for everybody, there has never been a politician who didn't know where more tax money could be spent.
With Council elections looming and a Honolulu mayor keenly fixed on his approval rating, now is not the time to be adding anything. This year could be the year the city discovers the subtraction key is the only one that works on its calculator.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org