Horsing around costs us taxpayers
I'M GENERALLY for less government and more free enterprise, but sometimes you have to face realities.
One of those realties is that government needs to expand to include one powerful new agency: the Department of Horses and Carts. You'd think that in these days of advanced technology, politicians and government bureaucrats wouldn't have a problem with horses and carts. But in Hawaii they do. They always seem to put the cart BEFORE the horse, which not only looks silly, but ends up costing us taxpayers a lot of money.
For instance, lawmakers rushed to put a 5-cent bounty on beverage containers before figuring out who would collect all those bottles and cans. Then they distributed thousands of ugly blue trash bins to hold household recycled material and yet didn't figure out who actually would come by and collect the junk. They didn't even figure out who would collect the ugly blue garbage bins when it became clear that they couldn't be used.
Then, and this is the biggie, they passed a law allowing counties to smack residents with a 0.5 percent sales tax (on top of the existing 4 percent tax) to pay for mass transit without figuring out who would collect and administer the tax. The counties thought the state should collect the transit taxes, and the state thought the counties should. They ended up deciding to let a private "third party" collect the taxes, thereby aggravating everyone involved.
NOW, SEE, if we had a Department of Horses and Carts, all these fairly laudable programs would have been reviewed before being put into action. The head of the horse and cart department would have pointed out that the key thing for a successful bottle-return program is to make it easy for people to return their empties. So, putting the horse before the cart, they would have set up an efficient bottle and can collection operation BEFORE they started taking everyone's nickels. Many of the problems eventually were ironed out but not before many good-hearted recyclers became righteously ticked off.
The cart-horse department likewise would have suggested arranging for collection of recycled material placed inside the ugly blue trash cans BEFORE thousands of the eyesores were scattered across the island. (That would seem to be a no-brainer, but no brains apparently were involved.) This problem is still unresolved since the city won't take back the ugly blue brutes because it has no place to store them. So they have become part of the landscape: Diamond Head, palm trees, ugly blue garbage buckets. Fabulous.
Finally, the Department of Horses and Carts would have insisted that some authority or office be designated to collect and administer the 0.5 percent mass transit tax BEFORE it became law. Because that didn't happen, the unseemly squabble between the governor and Honolulu mayor over which branch of government will be responsible for the money resulted in a bad decision to outsource tax collection to a private "third party." (One observer called that decision "harebrained," but again, that assumes brains were involved.) Now, if that "third party" collecting the tax was me, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But since it isn't, I do. The second reality is that while many of us favor free enterprise, we don't want a private business collecting our taxes. It's a matter of confidentiality. Government is supposed to protect our privacy. Private businesses might have other ideas.
Private enterprise can be useful in government under certain circumstances. Running public parking lots? Yes. Issuing speeding tickets and getting a kickback on fines? No. Collecting rubbish? Yes. Collecting taxes? No. Building highways? Yes. Taking your house through eminent domain to put in a casino? Really no.
The transit tax will not be instituted until next January, so there still is time to get this mess of who will collect the money figured out. But the point is that if there was a Department of Horses and Carts, it would have been figured out first. Of course, that would have been after they figured out if the Department of Horses and Carts would be under state or city jurisdiction.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org