Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty

Where There’s Smoke. . . by maliab
March 30, 2011, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Hawaii Sunshine | Tags: , , , ,

By Malia Hill

Boy, the Hawaii Legislature sure can pack a lot of taxation into a short session.  Sometimes, it seems as though the legislative session exists purely as an annual opportunity to raise existing taxes and create new ones.  One blanches to consider what we’d be paying  if they met for longer.  Of course, it’s hardly a surprise.  With a growing budget shortfall and a heavily Democratic legislature that regards the concept of shrinking the size of government as a strange and unaccountable mainland fad, like the macarena, raising taxes is the obvious way to prolong the agony until it’s someone else’s problem.

The funny thing about raising taxes is that it can be so very subtle.  Sure, we notice things like raises in the General Excise Tax or other large-scale maneuvers.  Which is why politicians prefer to avoid that kind of tax hike when possible.  When people see the money disappear directly from their paychecks, they tend toward irate gestures like complaining, petitioning, and even voting people out of office.   What we’re not so good at noticing is the taxation-by-1000-cuts approach that has become far more pervasive than we realize.

Take, for example, HB 273.  This little bill raises the excise tax on all tobacco except for cigarettes–and at a fairly steep rate.  Put aside for a moment the question of whether this will actually raise revenue (as opposed to depressing sales of such products to such an extent that no real benefit is realized), and ask yourself why would the legislature create a new tax on cigars (and chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco and such).  It isn’t a health-based impetus (much as I dislike them in general), as it’s ludicrous in such a case to leave out the most popular tobacco product and the one most commonly tied to health problems.  And if they really wanted to raise a lot of money, why not include cigarettes in the tax increase?  It seems likely that they a.) perceive it as easier to pass a tax on tobacco without going up against cigarette companies or consumers and b.) know that the public would be a lot more interested in hearing about a big tax on cigarettes than they would be about cigars.  In other words, it’s a stealthy little tax, crafted to slip by without much notice and add to the ever-growing state tax burden.

This is why some of Hawaii Legislators (they’re not all bad, no matter what I might imply in an aggravated mood) vote against such tax increases on principle.  Because they know that such efforts are indicative of both a willingness to avoid taking the tough steps we need to address our budget problems and because they feed into the creeping scheme of increasingly onerous taxation in Hawaii.  Though I wouldn’t blame them if they just wanted to enjoy a cigar without taking out a second mortgage.


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