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State tax credits for telecommuting would see benefits


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Establishing new tax credits when state revenues are falling sounds like a bad idea, but measures to encourage telecommuting should be seen as investments that would help Hawaii's businesses, their employees and the environment, as well as easing traffic congestion.

Legislators are considering bills that would give employers income tax breaks if their staffs work from home. Businesses would get up to $20,000 for start-up costs for a telecommuting program and up to $1,200 per worker, depending on how many days a month of telecommuting.

Two other bills would set up a task force to develop plans to encourage and expand telecommuting opportunities in the state.

Credits would be capped at $2 million in 2009 and 2010, a small cost considering the possible benefits. The task force appropriation has yet to be set.

Lawmakers likely will reject the credits because of the state's economic predicament, but they should at least set up the task force to take a look at the advantages telecommuting can deliver, not only to the private sector but to government, as well.

In 2007, Georgia became the first state to adopt a tax credit and since then, more than 135 forward-thinking employers have been approved for them. Georgia offered the credit primarily to ease traffic congestion, but studies have found that worker productivity increases with telecommuting while sick leave decreases. Employee retention and job satisfaction also improve.

Spending less time in traffic, even for just a few days a month, certainly would boost workers' spirits.