October-November 2002 Home   Newsletters

February 2003

March 2003

City Council Members Answer LWV Questions
President's Message: In My Opinion (Pearl Johnson)
City Budget Review (Charles Carole)
Hawaii Pro-Democracy Initiative LegiWatch 2003
Fundraiser: Benefit for Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline
Write Your Opinion
Action Alert: Campaign Finance Reform (Laure Dillon)
Welcome New Members

President's Message: In My Opinion...

Let's talk taxes. At the December membership meeting, Leaguers asked the City Council members why they did not talk about raising taxes. Let's have a pointcounterpoint dialogue among ourselves. Elsewhere in this issue, Charles Carole lays out his view of the City Council's upcoming budget deliberations. Express your opinion about revenue enhancement, particularly raising taxes, by fax, mail or email and we will continue the discussion in the next issues of the Voter.

I'll try to make the case for raising taxes. Honolulu faces a budget deficit of at least $159 million next year. This year, the budget was "balanced" by raiding the sewer and solid-waste funds, selling city assets and deferring debt payments, for a total of $146 million in onetime "funds." Next year additional debt service of $13 million makes the deficit $159 million, assuming no increase in operating expenses. (Source: Gary Okino in op-ed, Star-Bulletin, December 1, 2002)

Eighty percent of Honolulu's tax revenue comes from property tax. In almost all other cities, the property tax supports public schools while State taxes do that here. However, according to the Tax Foundation, Honolulu had the lowest residential property tax rate of all the largest cities in every state: 37 cents per $100 of assessed value. The highest was Bridgeport CT at $4.55 per $100. The median, Portland OR, was $1.55. The second lowest was almost twice Honolulu's: Denver at 67 cents. These figures are all adjusted to reflect the effective rate per $100 of true value.

Some will refute the low ranking by citing Honolulu's high property values. Well, in New York City, home of some of the world's most expensive residences, the rate is 83 cents, more than twice Honolulu's.

As for property tax as percent of income, I could not find figures for Honolulu alone, but did get figures for the state (Honolulu has over 70% of the state's population.). Hawaii pays $20 property tax per $1,000 of personal income, making us the 42nd of the 50 states. For all states, property tax amounted to $31 per $1,000.

Many will say we need to spend less. But who wants to cut down on garbage collection or police and fire protection? Even the Royal Hawaiian Band, perhaps the only municipal full time band in the nation, is sacrosanct. When the idea of cutting out the Band was broached, the resulting hue and cry convinced the budget cutters of its untouchable status.

In my opinion, cutting out $159 million of city services is impossible. I think raising taxes is an unpleasant necessity. What do you think?

(Figures for property tax rankings came from the Tax Foundation's Special Report #106, dated September 12, 2001, available at www.taxfoundation.org.)

Pearl Johnson

"Many excellent words are
ruined by too definite a
knowledge of their

- Aline Kilmer, American Poet

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