Where's your tax money? Through the looking glass
AS THE Honolulu City Council addresses the property tax rate, a couple of points become crystal clear. First, the city government has its own Alice-in-Wonderland logic and vocabulary to cover its artful dodgery. For example, our residential property taxes have increased 25 percent to 30 percent per year during the past three to four years. That means, thanks to compounding, our taxes have more than doubled. But the Council is considering only a 10 percent reduction in the residential property tax rate.
Council members try to make 10 percent sound generous by characterizing it as a tax cut. But isn't 10 percent really only a minor slowdown in the annual rate at which our property taxes are escalating? Or am I missing something here?
And as the Council scrutinizes the budget, some of the "reductions" it is considering are reduced tax rebates, refunds and credits. In other words, the Council thinks that not giving us back some of our own money is the same as reducing its operating budget. Why do I find all of this so hard to understand?
The second point is that the city's appetite for tax revenues always goes up and never down. While enjoying the windfall property tax revenue, the city continues to raise other taxes and fees. And despite all of this unprecedented revenue, it still has difficulty even with a manini tax "cut" like the 10 percent reduction in the residential real property tax rate. Are we to believe that when the economy slows down, and tax revenues fall, that the city's tax appetite will get smaller?
The lesson here is clear. When government gets its hands on our money, it doesn't give it back. And it will use spectacularly tortured and obscure logic to justify keeping it. The only way to control taxes is to make our city government more directly accountable to the people on tax issues. That means let Honolulu vote. Unfortunately, voting on taxes is not currently available to Honolulu's taxpayers because the city government has shown no willingness to put tax measures on the ballot. And, incredibly, citizen initiative on tax issues is denied us by our City Charter.
But something can be done. Let Honolulu Vote is an organization that is petitioning to amend the City Charter to restore a very basic right to Honolulu's voters. Go to lethonoluluvote.org to see who to contact and to find out what you can do. The voters of Honolulu must be able to hold our city government accountable on tax issues. Unlike our government, we trust Honolulu's voters.
Robert R. Kessler is co-chairman of Let Honolulu Vote.