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SB3182 SD1 ‘wealth asset tax’ not needed and potentially dangerous

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration Feb. 17, 2022, by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
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To: Senate Committee on Ways and Means
      Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz, Chair
      Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Joe Kent, Executive Vice President

RE: SB3182 SD1 — RELATING TO A WEALTH ASSET TAX

Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB3182 SD1, which would establish a wealth asset tax of 1% on the state net worth of each individual taxpayer who holds $20 million or more in assets in the state.

In this proposal, “assets” refer to the “worldwide net worth” of the taxpayer and includes items such as real estate, stock, business interests, art and collectibles, business funds and more.

Whatever the intention behind this bill, it seems clear that its main effect will be to encourage creative accounting strategies that ensure one falls below the threshold for this tax. Alternatively, it will encourage wealthy individuals to simply leave Hawaii.

Hawaii already has the third-highest level of economic flight per capita in the nation. Researchers have noted an increasing trend in state-level economic migration over the past several years, notably from high-tax states to lower-tax states.

While the trend may start with high earners, it quickly grows to affect the state as a whole. WIth the high earners go more business opportunities and new enterprises, so professionals and middle-income families soon follow suit. In the meantime, the tax base shrinks, leaving fewer people to bear the burden of the state budget.

In effect, this bill will amplify this problem and accelerate economic flight from Hawaii.

It’s not true that this tax hike is necessary to replenish state coffers. Hawaii is enjoying a budget surplus due to higher-than-expected revenues combined with an infusion of federal funds.

While the tax outlined in this bill applies to wealthy individuals, it will have a negative effect on Hawaii residents as a whole. The tax proposed here is likely to drive away investors and job creators, thereby contributing to the unemployment problem and the lack of opportunity that has already led many residents to move elsewhere.

The minor and speculative increase in revenue that this tax may generate would be offset by the damage it would cause to the rest of the state’s economy.

This proposal appears to ignore the reality of our state’s budget surplus and the challenges that our businesses and residents have had to face over the past two years. There are myriad reasons we should be wary of implementing tax hikes. Here are just a few:

>> Hawaii residents are already among the most taxed in the country; the state has the secondhighest overall tax burden in the U.S.

>> Hawaii cannot sustain a hike in taxes since its already-damaged economy was hit harder by the lockdowns than any other state in the nation.[1]

>> Hawaii’s population reduction of 32,237 people since fiscal 2016[2] has left Hawaii’s remaining taxpayers with a greater tax burden.

>> Hawaii has a progressive income tax that taxes high-income earners at 11%, second only to California at 13.3%.[3] Hawaii’s top 1% already pays 23% of all income taxes in the state.[4]

The rationale for a tax on the wealthy is that such funds will be used in programs that help the less fortunate. However, a wealth tax — especially one that can be avoided — is unlikely to provide much benefit to the rest of Hawaii’s residents.

If Hawaii lawmakers want to help working families, they should abandon their reliance on taxes as a public policy tool, which has only succeeded in establishing Hawaii as the state with the highest cost of living.

Instead of attempting to solve the state’s economic problems through a tax on the “rich,”  lawmakers should focus on strategies to lower the cost of living, such as reducing income taxes, creating an exemption to the general excise tax for groceries and medical services, lowering fees and reducing regulations that limit opportunities and stifle economic growth.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.

Sincerely,

Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
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[1] Dave Segal, “Hawaii’s unemployment rate hit nation-high 15% in September,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Oct. 20, 2020.

[2]Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2020 (NST-EST2020)” U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, December 2020 and “U.S. Census data,” “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021,” U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, accessed Jan. 3, 2022.

[3] Katherine Loughead, “State Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets for 2020,” Tax Foundation, Feb. 4, 2020.

[4]Hawaii Individual Income Tax Statistics,” Hawaii Department of Taxation, December 2020, Table 13A.

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