Tax Foundation of Hawaii’s work goes on

There was only one Lowell Kalapa, and he is now in a place where there are no taxes.

I am not here to replace him. No one can do that. But I and the faithful staff of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii are here to carry on its work.

“What’s that?” you might ask.

Fighting for good tax policy and an informed public.

In case anyone didn’t notice, the Legislature opened this month to its normal fanfare and hoopla. That means lawmakers over the next few months will be considering a large number of bills that could have a big impact on our economy. A number of these have already been introduced, and there will be more. Some of them are good. Some are nonsense. Some might become good if the nonsense is weeded out. That’s why, at this time, we try not to get distracted by all of the chaff out there. Once the committees start working we will have a better idea of what might survive the threshing process.

Here is what we at the Tax Foundation of Hawaii will be looking for:

* Simplicity: Administrative costs are a loss to society and complicated taxation undermines voluntary compliance by creating incentives to shelter and disguise income.

* Transparency: Tax legislation should be based on sound legislative procedures and careful analysis. A good tax system requires informed taxpayers who understand how tax assessment, collection and compliance works. There should be open hearings, and revenue estimates should be fully explained and replicable.

* Neutrality: The fewer economic decisions that are made for tax reasons, the better. The primary purpose of taxes is to raise needed revenue, not to micromanage the economy. The tax system should not favor certain industries, activities or products.

* Stability: When tax laws are in constant flux, long-range financial planning is difficult. Lawmakers should avoid enacting temporary tax laws, including tax holidays and amnesties.

* No retroactivity: As a corollary to the principle of stability, taxpayers should rely with confidence on the law as it exists when contracts are signed and transactions made.

* Broad bases and low rates: As a corollary to the principle of neutrality, lawmakers should avoid enacting targeted deductions, credits and exclusions. If such tax preferences are few, substantial revenue can be raised with low tax rates. Broad-based taxes can also produce relatively stable tax revenues from year to year.

(These principles came from the national Tax Foundation. We’re an independent organization but it did license us to use the name.)

A number of us in the Tax Foundation have been around Hawaii taxes for a very long time. I’ve personally been in this business more than 20 years. We are here to help people understand how our tax system works. We are here to be an independent voice to assist those who are trying to change things for the better and to remind them of the failures of the past lest we be doomed to repeat those mistakes.

Lowell Kalapa has gone to a place where there are no taxes, but the Tax Foundation of Hawaii hasn’t. We still have work to do, and we will be doing it.

* Tom Yamachika is the interim president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.