Hawaii is a state in crisis.

Our population is seeing a downward trend for the third straight year as residents leave Hawaii in droves. Ranked as the third-highest taxed state and the most expensive state to live in, locals who stay in the islands are fighting a losing battle in the war to make ends meet.

And now, some Hawaii residents may notice in filing their taxes that their federal tax refunds are either significantly lower, or they may even owe additional taxes this year. The reason for this, in part, is because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 capped a number of key deductions that Hawaii residents traditionally benefitted from, such as the state and local tax deduction, which is now just $10,000.

Said another way: The more taxes you pay to Honolulu, the more taxes you’ll now pay to Washington, D.C. As my generation was fond of saying, “Ugh, as if!”

Government officials in Hawaii need to re-evaluate the concept that problems must be solved with tax increases.

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Knowing that things are so bad, Hawaii’s elected officials need to be sensitive to the fact that residents and businesses can only handle so much before they decide to flee to the mainland.

High school civics students are often taught about the legendary U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who famously ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”

Apparently, Hawaii’s elected officials skipped that day of class, as they seem perpetually consumed by pursuing abstract future goals rather than prioritizing the prosperity of the people who elected them.

We are told every year by politicians that we’re going to have to pay more taxes because there’s some expensive problem that can only be fixed by throwing more tax dollars at it – whether it be climate change, public education, mass transit, or even the salaries of elected officials. Hawaii residents obviously don’t agree with this practice; the decline of Hawaii’s population, and especially the exodus of young people, is nothing short of a vote of no-confidence in the Aloha State’s future.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who was elected last year, is concerned about how all this impacts locals.

“Our high cost of living and continual increases in taxes and fees has caused so many individuals and families to leave,” she says.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy think tank, has been showcasing the stories and lives of locals who have left the islands for the mainland, either for more opportunities or relief from oppressive costs of living. Grassroot president Keli`i Akina, who is also an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, says that Hawaii’s taxes, and particularly the general excise tax, drive young people away.

“The proposal to increase the GE tax in order to fund education is counterproductive,” Akina said. “It doesn’t help teachers, because it makes it harder for them to live in Hawaii.”

While that proposal recently was deferred this session, Akina says that legislators need to consider the high levels of taxation and “bring a reduction in terms of the top marginal income tax and the GE tax.”

To increase economic activity, Akina says that the state also needs to update its land use and zoning laws, to open up a small percentage of more developable land.

Kapolei restaurant owner Danny Malabot Jr. is also concerned.

“It’s hard to make it in Hawaii as a business owner with all the taxes and high overhead. I want to reward my employees by paying them more, but I don’t have much left after paying taxes,” he says. “A lot of people who don’t own businesses don’t understand how much taxes we pay.”

Mililani resident Zuri Aki, a public policy advocate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs who spoke as a private citizen, says the tax structure perpetuates social inequality.

“Hawaii residents should take a hard look at this practice of ever-increasing taxation for what it is: politically induced economic oppression,” he says.

Here in the islands, we are going to have to find a more equitable way to pay for government. Hawaii residents don’t mind paying their fair share in taxes, but fighting high costs of living and high taxes is a burden that is becoming extremely unfair.

Elected officials need to learn this vital fact: One more new tax increase or new fee is one too many. Stop already. The price of paradise shouldn’t be at the expense of our happiness.

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