Sunday, December 23, 2001

Governor’s liquor tax would
hurt already ailing economy

The issue: Cayetano proposes to double
the taxes on alcoholic beverages
to lessen a revenue shortage.

Hawaii needs higher taxes right now like it needs a hole in the head. Even if the increase would be on a "sin" -- in this case liquor -- piling on more taxes while the economy totters and when consumer confidence is weak will only make matters worse. The state would do better to tighten its belt not only to make up the expected $315 million revenue deficit expected in the next two years, but for the long-term financial health of its operations.

Governor Cayetano ran the idea up the flagpole last week, but it appears the state Legislature is not likely to salute. The governor proposes to double the levy on liquor, adding about 9 cents to the cost of a bottle of brew, about $1.20 to a fifth of hard liquor and 53 cents to a quart of wine. The increases would lift Hawaii to the unenviable position of having the highest liquor taxes in the country.

The governor's reasoning is that alcoholic beverages are a luxury and that drinking causes so many problems that its consumers should pay the price. Be that as it may, the problem with a tax increase is that the fragile tourism industry will take another blow. Adding a couple more dollars to the tab at a restaurant may not seem like much, but every extra penny factors into a consumer's pocketbook decisions.

Liquor is an exploitable target for a tax increase. Like the other "sin" tax -- that on tobacco products -- a raise would likely draw less opposition because of the social problems caused by alcohol abuse. But whatever the product, boosting taxes in the current economic atmosphere is unacceptable.

Shrinking revenue projections clearly display the need to cut government expenses and Cayetano has asked all state departments to prepare to trim their budgets. For the upcoming legislative session, he will revive his plan to dip into the $213 million hurricane relief fund and to authorize $900 million in bonds for construction projects in hopes they will stimulate the economy.

None of these approaches should be dismissed without careful consideration. However, the governor and the Legislature are missing the point, which is that the time has come to overhaul the way the state does business to close the ever-widening gap between income and expenses. State leaders should use the current economic crisis to reform the entire system. Small fixes and plugging holes in the dikes will work only for the short term.

New city law adds ammo in
the battle against cockfighting

The issue: A new city ordinance has
increased fines against possessing
cockfighting weapons.

MAYOR Harris has signed into law an ordinance that provides the city with the penalties needed to discourage cockfighting. The new law increases the fines for possession or sale of the sharp metal spurs knows as gaffs, worn by roosters as weapons in the bloody sport. Judges should recognize the effort to crack down on cockfighting and be willing to use the law to its fullest degree.

City prosecutors have found success in prosecuting actual involvement in cockfighting under the state law against cruelty to animals, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for up to one year. However, judges have been lax in punishing offenders. City Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura says convictions commonly have led to fines of only $100 for the first offense and no more than $250 for a repeat offender. Those fines essentially have amounted to affordable cockfighting license fees.

Violation of the city ordinance against the sale or possession of gaffs has carried a fine of up to $100. The new ordinance, as introduced by City Councilman John Henry Felix, would have raised the maximum fine to $500.

We expressed doubts earlier this year about whether that would change the actual amount of fines imposed and suggested that a minimum fine would be more effective. The Council changed Felix's bill by creating a minimum fine of $250 and a maximum of $1,000. Logically, that also should cause judges to impose larger fines on those convicted of actual involvement in cockfighting.

Judges have been reluctant to sentence cockfighting offenders to prison, and never for gaff offenses, although the old ordinance provided for jail sentences of up three months for sale or possession of gaffs. That allowed defendants to demand jury trials for what is a minor crime, ancillary to cockfighting itself. The new ordinance reduces the potential jail time to one month, like most petty offenses.

Judges normally should be allowed to exercise wide discretion in imposing sentences, including fines. However, in this case too many judges have abused that discretion after being duped into believing that cockfighting is some sort of cultural birthright. The $250 mandatory minimum fine should prevent that abuse

Cockfighting is a barbaric sport that is banned in 47 states and in most countries. It is not the birthright of any culture, although it has been popular in many parts of the world, including the U.S. mainland, at various times in history. It has no place in civilized society.

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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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