About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Opinion article badgeHawaii lawmakers recently approved a plan to give Hawaii taxpayers a rebate of either $100 or $300. The plan was triggered because state tax collections cranked up as the economy bounced back post-pandemic. The plan would cost around $250 million. It now awaits Gov. David Ige’s signature.

I mean, yay for a little windfall, but that’s such a small wind blowing through a tiny tree with few mangoes to be gathered from the ground. The individual rebates to taxpayers aren’t make-or-break amounts. Nobody is going to be able to pay the rent with $300. Nobody is going to cover a semester of college with $300.

That amount might be three or four trips to the grocery store (if you don’t buy nice meat) or three tanks of gas for an SUV, the vehicle of choice in Hawaii regardless of socio-economic status. Three hundred dollars isn’t enough to buy the cheapest washer at Sears and is barely enough for two new tires for a car (if you go with the low-end tires … but you probably shouldn’t go with the low-end tires.)

It is not enough money to solve problems.

However, if the state held on to the $250 million instead of giving it back to taxpayers, that pooled money could actually take care of a problem that affects everyone. And we all know the state of Hawaii always has problems to solve.

In the days of sugar, Japanese families practiced the tradition of “tanomoshi,” where a group of friends pooled their money to pay for things that, individually, none could easily afford. As Ruth N. Masuda described in “Kodomo No Tame Nia: For the Sake of the Children,” a group of maybe 10 people contribute a sum of perhaps $10 a month to the tanomoshi for 10 months. Each month, one of the members gets a turn to have the collected sum. In the end, everyone is equal and everyone has gained. There were other versions of this basic idea, but the concept is the same. A small amount of money gathered from each member of the community can benefit the group in a more effective way than if each one tried to get by on their own.

Perhaps those funds would be put to better use to pay for one of the many state projects that always seem to be hurting for money. There’s a never-ending to-do list for any government, starting with the obvious, like fixing cratered roads and crumbling bridges, to the constant upgrade needs of computer systems.

Ilaniwai Street in Kakaako with potholes in foreground.
Maybe the money saved from not giving rebates could be used to fill the city’s ubiquitous potholes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Keep the rebates and fix that monster pothole that greets arriving passengers right outside the airport and other road problems that are bound to crop up as soon as summer is pau and the rain starts up again. Save that money and put it toward building a new prison that lawmakers have been talking about for decades. Crime isn’t going down and the street drugs today make users so much more desperate and dangerous than the stuff that was around in the ’70s and ’80s. The need for a new prison facility to keep the community safe and keep inmates in sanitary and humane conditions grows every year.

For that matter, keep the money and build a comprehensive, high-occupancy drug treatment program, one that doesn’t have perpetually long waitlists that kill the fight of a drug user ready to get help.

There are so many possibilities, from health and human services, to public safety, to hey, how about next time there’s a catastrophe, make sure the unemployment office can issue those checks faster because that sucked.

Sure. Some extra cash is nice.

Three hundred dollars is enough to throw a garage party with a few friends. It’s enough to rent a tux and buy flowers for the junior prom. It’s enough to pay an electrician to fix your funky wall socket but not enough to get the entire glitchy room rewired. It’s mad money, a bit of cash set aside for an impulse buy or a nice dinner. So you eat that steak and drive home on a rutted freeway and lock your doors against the street people who wouldn’t be so dangerous or in danger if they got help.

But it is an election year, and legislators are going to want to be able to look their constituents in the eye and say, “Remember that $300 check? That was from me. You’re welcome.” Three hundred dollars can’t get you much these days, but it might buy a little good will from voters.

Read this next:

Hosted Short-Term Vacation Rentals Could Ease Housing Crunch

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)


Scotty_Poppins · 1 year ago

Pretty spot on Lee. The problem is although this money is too little to make much impact on most of our lives, if left in the state's hands it will be squandered in the quagmire of government spending. One of the worlds greatest mysteries is how $250M can be whittled away by union's and internal red tape that it comes out on the other end to be just $50M in public benefit. For me it's the lesser of 2 bad choices, take the Costco run with your own overtaxed money, or let the state spend it as usual, on payback favors. I guess, I'll take my tax dollars back, thank you.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

I concur with her main premise...$250,000,000 will definitely make a positive impact on a plethora of our community issues that we would All benefit from as a whole, as well as helping those who are really hurting out there.Nevertheless, donating to a charity, homeless persons, mentally ill, drug nonprofit, etc...Still can make a difference in our community.

PSpects · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.