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Put state budget on a diet, Akina says on ‘Perry & The Posse’ show

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What to do with the state’s $3 billion budget surplus was the focus of Michael W. Perry’s interview with Keli’i Akina last Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Perry is the host of Hawaii most popular morning radio show, on KSSK 92.3 FM and 590 AM; Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Perry invited Akina onto his show after reading Akina’s Jan. 1 “President’s Corner” column, sent to all institute readers with the message line, “Let’s resolve to put the state on a diet.”

Akina had mentioned in his column that state legislators would be looking at a budget surplus, but it was not known then that the amount was $3 billion.

Here’s a highlight:

Perry: How should the Legislature spend the [surplus] money?

Akina: Well, for one thing, Gov. [David] Ige wants to put the money in a rainy-day fund. That would be good, if it actually went there and stayed there and didn’t get raided and was used for a rainy day. We don’t think that’s a bad idea.

But there’s something very interesting in the Hawaii Constitution. It says that if the state is getting “excessive revenues,” it has to return some of the money back to the taxpayers or use it to pay down debt or for a rainy day. So giving it back to taxpayers might be an idea our legislators want to consider. 

For example, if lawmakers gave a billion dollars back to the taxpayers, it would mean every taxpayer got $1,361. 

Now, of course, our legislators could also, with the excessive money, decide to lower taxes and not raise any more taxes all around. Do you think that’s going to happen, Mike?

To hear Mike’s answer, listen to the lively 4-1/2 minute interview by clicking on the picture below. A complete transcript follows.

1-7-22 Keli’i Akina on Michael W. Perry’s “Perry & The Posse,” KSSK 93.2 FM and 590 AM

Michael W. Perry: KSSK Radio. Every time we get an e-blast, an email from the Grassroot Institute, it’s pretty darn amazing. 

The Grassroot Institute is Dr. Keli’i Akina’s organization. He is one of the smartest people I know, and he’s always got good advice for the state of Hawaii. He loves Hawaii and he’s with us right now. 

Happy new year, Dr. Akina, how are you?

Keli’I Akina: Happy new year to you. Mike. You’re too kind. Love to be with you and The Posse. all the time.

Perry: As you know, the governor released his budget and it looks like — guess what? — the more business we have in the state of Hawaii, the more business comes back, we have more tax revenues. Looks like we have a pretty good chunk of tax revenues here. What’s going on?

Akina: Well, Mike, our state government projects, it’s going to have a surplus of $3 billion this year. That’s huge. But, you know, that may not be all good news, though, because our legislators are now like kids in a candy shop.

Perry: Oh boy.

Akina: They’ve been snacking on a diet of federal bailout money during the pandemic. So our state budget, instead of going on a much needed diet, has actually been passing on the pounds. So now, instead of using the surplus money towards paying off our massive debts and unfunded liabilities, I’m afraid legislators are likely to fund their pet projects.

Perry: [laughter] Oh, gee. So no dollar must go unspent. [laughs] We have to keep on spending. 

What are they going to do with the money? Is it all going to be pet projects, and why do we have so much? Is it just because the economy came back? Two questions in one.

Akina: Well, that’s the biggest part of it. But first of all. the state has been given a large amount of federal bailout money due to the pandemic. So instead of getting used to tightening our belts, we’ve just continued to spend.

But you hit the nail on the head there. As we started to lift the lockdowns, businesses are going back to work. They’re producing revenues, so projected tax revenues are going way up. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. We’ve been advising that all along. Lifting the lockdowns is good for the economy.

Perry: OK, so how do the folks at Grassroot Institute — dot org (.org), by the way, if you want to go on the website — think that … How should the Legislature spend the money?

Akina: Well, for one thing, Gov. Ige wants to put the money in a rainy-day fund. That would be good, if it actually went there and stayed there and didn’t get raided and was used for a rainy day. We don’t think that’s a bad idea.

But there’s something very interesting in the Hawaii Constitution. It says that if the state is getting “excessive revenues,” it has to return some of the money back to the taxpayers or use it to pay down debt or for a rainy day. So giving it back to taxpayers might be an idea our legislators want to consider. 

For example, if lawmakers gave a billion dollars back to the taxpayers, it would mean every taxpayer got $1,361. 

Now, of course, our legislators could also, with the excessive money, decide to lower taxes and not raise any more taxes all around. Do you think that’s going to happen, Mike?

Perry: Let’s see, the chances are pretty much (buzzer sound) zero on that. 

OK, but, Keli’i, you have a new tool to help people balance the budget and try their hand at being a legislator. How do we go about this?

Akina: That’s because we all need to have fun in our lives. We’ve got a tool at the Grassroot Institute website that anybody can use. At the click of a button, you can balance the state budget using your own ideas. 

You can see what would happen if you gave taxpayers a big rebate, or if you didn’t give a rebate. or if you raise taxes. It’s a fun tool to play with, and it’s a great way to try your hand at being a legislator. 

You can go to that tool by simply getting on the Grassroot website, which is grassrootinstitute.org. We invite everyone to have some fun.

Perry: Keli’i, great to talk to you. Dr. Keli’i Akina is, he’s on the board of OHA (state Office of Hawaiian Affairs), of course, and he’s also the leader of the Grassroot Institute. Go to grassrootinstitute.org. Brand new cartoon, I believe, this morning from Dave Swann; they’re always good. Happy new year to you.

Akina: Happy New Year to you, Mike. Aloha.

Perry: Keeping you in touch with Hawaii.

 

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