Union retirees support raising excise tax


POSTED: Monday, March 15, 2010

The major issue facing state legislators and the governor is the projected $1.2 billion budget deficit. However, their issue is also our issue, because the decisions made by them on closing the deficit will affect all citizens, including seniors and retirees.

Our Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans (HARA) met for our third Biennial Convention on Jan. 9. We considered a proposed resolution: that HARA strongly supports an increase in the general excise tax (GET) by 1 percentage point, with a three-year sunset, to help the state close its budget deficit.

Before deliberating on the resolution to increase the GET, the nearly 100 delegates and guests listened to many speakers, including U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, then-Congressman Neil Abercrombie, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

During the afternoon session, John Hayakawa, a member of the HARA board of directors, organized the education session on the GET, which included background information on the tax; a comparison of taxes in other jurisdictions; a comparison of the revenue-generating power of different tax proposals; and recent published interviews of Rep. Marcus Oshiro and of Jim Tollefson, president of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce.

After much discussion and hearing the reports of the 13 discussion groups, we approved the tax resolution by a near-unanimous vote, supporting a 1 percentage point increase in the GET.

The vote was not surprising. Speaking with a unified voice, we say: Stop the bleeding from more drastic cuts in essential state services that have hurt so many people, including our most vulnerable seniors and their families. More cuts will adversely affect so many state programs and services, including the Kupuna Care Program, a very successful and essential safety net program that enables elders to live with independence and dignity. Kupuna Care funds family caregiver and supportive services such as personal care, home-delivered meals, homemaker services and adult day care.

Further we say: Stop balancing the budget on the backs of children and students, public employees and the disadvantaged. Spread the pain, so all in our state will share the pain. Increase the GET to raise much-needed state revenue. A 1 percentage point increase in the GET is bearable, although it will be painful for many of us, since most of us are on fixed income. Thank the millions of our tourists, who will help share this tax burden, too. Resolve our huge state deficit today with a workable plan; do not leave it to other politicians, our children and our grandchildren.

Representing 21,000 members, HARA is a statewide organization of retiree and community organizations established nearly 10 years ago to advocate the concerns of seniors and retirees. Our affiliates include American Federation of Teachers retirees, the Hawaii Family Caregivers Coalition, Hawaii Government Employees Association retirees, Hawaii State Teachers Association retirees, International Longshore and Warehouse Union retirees, the Kokua Council, Machinist Union retirees, United Public Workers retirees and the Americans for Democratic Action-Hawaii. Nationally, we are affiliated with the Alliance for Retired Americans, which has more than 3.4 million members committed to ensure social and economic justice and full civil rights for all citizens.

We strongly urge each member of the state Legislature to approve a 1 percentage point increase in the GET, with a three-year sunset provision, to close the budget deficit.

Representing thousands of our kupuna, we believe that this is the right thing to do for the good of our Hawaii ohana.

Albert T. Hamai is president of the Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans.