If you’re a legislator in Hawaii, there is a street-smart time to raise taxes. And contrary to what some may think, that isn’t, “anytime, anyplace.”

Rather, the politically easiest time to propose a tax increase is when it is “not an election year.”

And since the 2017 legislative session falls into that time warp in which voters can’t immediately react to tax hikes, there are even more tax increases than usual making their way through the Legislature.

Not enough of the right questions are being asked at the state Capitol, where too many tax increase proposals are still alive in the Legislature. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Right now, your lawmakers are pursuing efforts to offset low income tax credits by raising income taxes for higher earners (as in House Bill 209).

There is a proposal to increase internet taxation by changing the state’s definition of a “business” (Senate Bill 620).

There’s a possible surcharge on prepaid cell phones (House Bill 206), an effort to extend Obamacare’s individual mandate to the state level (House Bill 552), a surcharge on transient accommodation brokers like Airbnb (House Bill 1471), an extension of the rail surcharge (Senate Bill 1183), and the notorious effort to enshrine a special tax for education in the state constitution (Senate Bill 683), plus the law to implement that tax if it passes a public vote (Senate Bill 686).

And that’s just a few of the more successful tax proposals we’ve tracked this year. There are plenty of other tax hikes that were introduced and granted hearings.

The truly stunning thing to watch has been how easily these bills have moved through the Legislature. Other than the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and some like-minded organizations (and individuals), few have spoken out against raising taxes or pointed out the negative economic impact of tax hikes.

The real problem is that (especially in the one-party Senate) there is no significant opposition voice to raise these critical questions.

This is not an issue of partisanship. There are fiscally responsible Democrats and tax-and-spend Republicans. But in the Hawaii Legislature, there are too many players on the same team and not enough people who are prepared to buck the dominant party and speak out for Joe Taxpayer.

We are paying a steep price for the lack of ideological diversity in state government. In our marketplace of ideas, there is only one vendor.

The result is that Hawaii citizens are being shortchanged. Important questions are not being asked, either about raising taxes or about government spending. Instead, these proposals slide through the Legislature on a wave of collegiality.

What we really need are more policymakers who are willing to challenge this dominant philosophy. It’s not a question of electing more people from one party or the other. It’s about finding real leaders and restoring what the legislative process is supposed to be — a conversation, not a monologue.

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