Sunday, July 22, 2001

Reapportionment panel should
only count real residents

The issue: Hawaii's 2001 Reapportionment
Commission is deliberating on whether to
include aliens and military families in
its redistricting formula.

RATIONALE for including aliens and military families in head counts on which to base legislative districts has nothing to do with assuring those people representation in Congress or the Legislature. It has everything to do with creating as many districts as possible on Oahu and as few as possible on neighbor islands. It is a power grab that should be rejected by the Reapportionment Commission.

The commission is debating about whom to include in populations used in drawing lines for Hawaii's two congressional districts, 76 state House districts and 25 state Senate districts. It has tentatively decided to include aliens, as it has in the past, and nonresident military dependents -- but not the military service people themselves. Commission Chairman Wayne Minami reasoned that military families pay general excise tax and send their children to Hawaii schools so should be counted.

But that is not the real reason for the decision. The more people who can be included in Oahu's population, the more seats Oahu can have in the Legislature. Oahu has an extraordinary number of aliens and military families.

The heaviest concentration of resident aliens in Hawaii -- estimated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service five years ago at 66,000 -- is in central Oahu; the average in those six House districts is about 20 percent, compared with less than 5 percent in suburban and neighbor island districts.

The resulting contrast between voter participation in those central Oahu districts and in neighbor island districts, caused by counting aliens, is reflected in voter registration figures in last year's election. While House district populations were about the same -- about 24,000 -- the average number of voter registrations was 13,904 in the Big Island's six districts, 13,498 in Maui's eight districts and 9,176 in those six Oahu districts.

The reason for the lower registration in the Oahu district was not lack of interest. It was because a large portion of the population was not eligible to vote because they are not citizens. They should not be used as part of the basis for determining representation in those districts.

The roll call of active duty military personnel on Oahu is about 37,000, and their dependents number about 40,000 -- enough to comprise nearly four House districts and two Senate districts. These are people who, if they vote, generally do so by absentee ballot in their native districts on the mainland that they continue to call home.

The only reason for including military families in the redistricting formula is to give Oahu a disproportionately greater representation in the Legislature and that would be patently unfair.

How does the IRS
spell tax relief?

The issue: The government spends
big bucks on a letter to explain a small
rebate and some taxpayers may
be getting the wrong information.

DO NOT THROW AWAY!" exclaims the bright red notice on the outside of the letter, as if any American citizen in his or her right mind would chuck into the trash a piece of mail with the Internal revenue Service as the return address.

In the past two weeks, the government has sent out 112 million of these letters to taxpayers, more for public relations purposes than the official justification of explaining the rebates granted by President Bush and Congress.

Although official looking, the tone of the "IMPORTANT MESSAGE" (again in bright red) is more in line with those "you-may-already-be-a-winner!" junk-mail solicitations. "We are pleased to inform you," the letter begins, then goes on to tell taxpayers that they are the lucky recipients of a rebate of as much as $300 per person.

But wait. As happens with a lot of government doings, there are exasperating hitches.

As a result of a computer error, more than half a million taxpayers were told they would get more money than they will actually receive. To make matters worse, many of the erroneous letters went to low- and moderate-income families to whom an extra $300 could mean a lot. These poor souls will be sent a second letter explaining the mistake, but because of the way government operates, the letter will probably arrive after the rebate checks.

The second mailing will cost about $100,000, but that's chump change compared to the $33.9 million the government spent to mail out all the letters. And when the actual checks go out, postage and handling alone will set back the treasury about $58 million.

The letters have caused jammed lines on the IRS's toll-free phone number and in offices on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress -- Republicans as well as Democrats -- complained that they received numerous calls from constituents confused by the letter or asking why they needed to be sent in the first place. Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan grumbled that the "mailing was a complete waste of taxpayer money" while Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin growled that the letters were "taxpayer-funded political mailings that confused people."

Congress has no right to complain; they approved the rebate and the spending bill to pay for the letters.

Meanwhile, as President Bush (by satellite from economic meetings in Italy), Vice President Dick Cheney, Cabinet members and congressional delegates were celebrating the mailing of the first checks Friday, the Treasury Department reported that the budget surplus in June fell 43 percent from June 2000. The White House had hoped the rebates would spur personal spending and boost the faltering economy, but as corporate and personal income drops and the surplus dwindles, taxpayers may want to hang on to their rebate. The letter they can chuck.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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