Lowering the cost of living & supporting agriculture – a twofer

Politicians and lawmakers often lay the blame for their perceived impotence on the nature of dealing with “complex issues and intractable challenges”.

This is kind of true, but not really.

Many if not most of our state’s most serious challenges, can be resolved or at least greatly alleviated, with literally the stroke of a pen.

Some small changes to current policy could have huge beneficial effects, with many solutions costing zero not zillions of dollars.

Most of the issues and their proposed solutions have been around for decades, debated, studied, and deferred, ad nauseam.

Changes in “public policy” can often be made with zero impacts on the state budget. Simply changing tax policy, by reducing the amount of taxes now paid by local residents and increasing the taxes paid by absentee owners, foreign investors, very high-income individuals and visitors is one tangible example.

With the stroke of a pen our state legislature could lower the cost of living, for all of us who live here.

But to find a majority in the House and the Senate with the common purpose and drive needed to actually stroke that pen, is another story.

Of course with every action done by the legislature, someone’s ox is gored. In the case of lowering the taxes of local residents while increasing taxes on the wealthy and elite, the wealthy and elite will scream very loud.

There are few policy initiatives that will make everyone happy. In this case, making positive changes to help local residents is our priority. The fear-mongering by those who will pay more though will be palpable, and big business and big money will align in opposition.

“We could do this but…”. There is always a “but” standing in the way of progress. There is always fear of the unknown, and there are always excuses for the inaction.

One would think that if politicians could lower the cost of living for hard-working local residents AND increase food self-sufficiency while supporting local agriculture – they would be tripping over themselves to make it happen.

It’s only complicated for those who want it to be complicated. Trust me on this, it’s not.

With the stroke of a pen, the legislature could remove the 4.5% General Excise Tax (GET), including County surcharge, on fresh non-processed food and long-term rents. Voila! The effective cost of living for local residents is significantly reduced, PLUS the market for fresh locally grown food is increased.

That’s fresh non-processed food. We are not talking fast food, canned food, boxed food or restaurant food. You get the picture- fresh, healthy, and hopefully locally grown food, is what we are talking.

And long-term rents mean long term rents and NOT short-term vacation rentals.

Ideally, but yes it does now get more complicated – the GET could be removed from other “essential” items such as toilet paper, diapers, soap, toothpaste and other personal hygiene products.

And those minuscule but important tax credits that currently apply to low income working people? Those need to remain as well. No bait and switch to the detriment of the 48%, please.

The “lost income” to the state could be made up by a modest increase to the GET on all other non-essential items.

Hawaii has 1,400,000 permanent residents, 48% of whom are one paycheck away from being on the streets. 10,000,000 tourists are expected to visit Hawaii next year. Our visitors and others who can well afford it, need to pay a larger share of the GET, and local residents need to pay less.

Think about it as a public policy “twofer” – food and economic justice via the stroke of a pen.

What a day that would be. Imagine a legislature that lowered the cost of living for local residents, and helped our small farmers – all in a single legislative session.

It’s doable you know. We are not talking pie in the sky, fantasy type make-believe policy. This could be real and could be done in a single year – if a majority in the legislature wanted it.

Gary Hooser

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About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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1 Response to Lowering the cost of living & supporting agriculture – a twofer

  1. Keith says:

    Thank you Gary. Agreed.
    Washington state for a near half century has had no sales tax on food, ….period!
    A rather thoughtful, people first, progressive practice!
    I think the state of Hawaii can make this idea even better. NO SALES TAX ON HAWAIIAN GROWN FOOD. No sales tax on Hawaiian grown food would make Hawaii grown food more attractive, make agricultural land more attractive than to plant condos, adds to food sovereignty and resilience of state citizens.
    Such a great idea, I knew it could not be an original of my own.

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