Three resolutions for a Happy New Year

The new year is almost upon us, which means it’s time for one of my favorite traditions: making a list of resolutions for Hawaii’s policymakers.

First and foremost, I suggest they resolve to reduce Hawaii’s tax burden.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the best ways to increase tax revenues is to grow our economy, and one of the best ways to do that is to cut taxes.

Since Hawaii has one of the biggest tax burdens in the country, there are plenty of places we could start — such as giving private practice physicians an exemption from the state general excise tax, which would make it easier for doctors to stay in Hawaii.

Or pegging the state income tax brackets to inflation, which was part of the governor’s plan to reform the state income tax, presented during the 2023 legislative session. That way, our taxes won’t go up just because we receive a raise to keep up with inflation.

State lawmakers could also cut the state corporate income tax, which would encourage business investment. And they could cut or repeal Hawaii’s estate or “death” tax, which interferes with building intergenerational wealth and essentially amounts to double taxation.

My second resolution for legislators is to restrain their spending. This relates to my first resolution, because less spending would ease the need for taxes.

Of course, some expenses are inescapable, such as relief for fire-ravaged Lahaina. But even so, state and Maui lawmakers still should look for ways to reduce spending and present a balanced budget that doesn’t require borrowing or spending-cap shenanigans.

Third, isn’t it about time we start removing some of the many regulatory barriers to housing growth?

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has issued a new report that lists multiple zoning and permitting reforms lawmakers could enact to facilitate more homebuilding at all levels of affordability — without having to launch massive and costly construction projects at the expense of Hawaii taxpayers.

Such reforms include lot-splitting, upzoning, greater use of ohana units, reducing parking mandates, “adaptive reuse” of commercial and office buildings, by-right permitting and more.

Considered separately, many of those proposals might seem like small steps. But implemented comprehensively, they would make a big difference in getting Hawaii residents into the homes they need — before they simply give up and leave for less expensive pastures elsewhere.

Additionally, Hawaii lawmakers should resolve to join more interstate medical licensing compacts to allow more healthcare workers to come to Hawaii; remove the barriers to trading cryptocurrency; and curb the governor’s excessive use of emergency powers.

Or would that be asking too much? If so, let’s go with the three big resolutions for 2024: Cut spending, lower taxes and increase Hawaii’s housing supply.

That is a good, workable list, and the Grassroot Institute has provided a wealth of resources that could help our state and county lawmakers achieve those goals.

Let’s start off 2024 with big dreams, big plans and a renewed dedication to making Hawaii more prosperous and free.

But above all, I wish you a very happy and safe New Year!

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for Dec. 31, 2023. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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