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by Frances Nuar 

If your family is like mine, you’re paying a little closer attention to price tags than you did a couple years ago. With high unemployment, stagnant wages, and the price of basic necessities continually rising, it only makes sense that we consider prices when shopping for everything from gasoline to groceries.

It seems logical enough that legislators would do the same — particularly when shopping with our money. Yet, as it turns out, Hawaii’s Legislature is the only one in the nation that fails to analyze the cost of proposed legislation and make that information available to the public. This sends only one message to the taxpayers: You work hard to budget so the Legislature doesn’t have to.

It is time to increase transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility by implementing fiscal notes — or price tags — that show Hawaii families where and how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent by legislators.

A fiscal note provides an estimate of the costs, revenue or savings associated with a proposed measure. Instead of writing a blank check with taxpayer money, a fiscal note forecasts revenue changes so legislators know the fiscal consequences of a bill before making a decision on it. It is the kuleana of the legislators to know the full costs associated with a bill before voting on it; requiring this information is a basic courtesy to the taxpayers who fund the bills.

While including price tags on legislation would seem like common sense, policy makers are hesitant to implement them, saying that the costs associated with fiscal notes are too high. This is nonsense. Currently both the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee conduct cost analyses on some bills, but fail to make them public.

One solution would be to create an independent, nonpartisan budget office with staff from each of these offices that would work openly and transparently, at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

Hawaii cannot afford not to put a price tag on legislation. The total debt of the state of Hawaii is officially reported at $9 billion, but actual debt may be as high as $26 billion when combining debt, post-employment pension and other benefits, unemployment trust funds and budget shortfall.

Clearly, legislators are incapable of sticking to a budget with the information they currently receive — and voters are thus unable to hold them accountable.

House Bill 449, currently awaiting hearing by the Legislative Management Committee, would institute fiscal notes into the legislative process.

We can only hope that legislators are serious enough about fiscal responsibility to start looking at price tags when reaching into our pockets for funding.

 

This article was originally published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser