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Thursday, March 28, 2024
A hard look at the root causes of the exodus
By Keli'i Akina PhD @ 4:33 AM :: 1813 Views :: Taxes, Cost of Living

Akina finds hope in Governor’s ‘Hawai‘i We Deserve’ report

from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, March 27, 2024

Hawaii’s residents are fleeing the state in droves, but Keli’i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, sees a glimmer of hope in Gov. Josh Green’s recent report, “The Hawai‘i We Deserve,” which takes a hard look at the root causes of the exodus.

“We have one of the fastest rates of exodus from Hawaii. And, Rick, that’s ridiculous because this is the most beautiful place on Earth,” Akina told NewsRadio 830 KHVH’s Rick Hamada on March 21. “The people are wonderful, the culture is wonderful, nature is spectacular. So why would people leave Hawaii?”

The answer, Akina says, lies in the state’s sky-high taxes and soaring cost of living. He said inflation is pushing thousands more into higher tax brackets, where they’re losing ground financially just by treading water.

He said Green’s report confronts these challenges head-on, and “gets it right what’s wrong with Hawaii.”

“When government is finally saying [it is] the problem,” he added, it’s “on the right track to finding a solution.”

Akina said the governor’s proposal to index the state income tax to inflation is especially appealing, and if enacted would help make Hawaii a more affordable place to live and work. 

During the conversation, Akina touched on other hot-button issues as well, such as the Aloha Stadium funding debate and a controversial “disinformation” bill being considered by the Legislature.

TRANSCRIPT

3-21-24 Keli‘i Akina with host Rick Hamada on KHVH News Radio 830

Rick Hamada: As always, at this time, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is featured, and delightfully so, and especially today, because we get to know the entire team at Grassroot Institute of Hawaii leading the group and leading this organization, Dr. Keli‘i Akina.

Keli‘i Akina: Aloha Rick, and aloha to all your listeners. It’s always wonderful to be with you.

Hamada: I am glad we’re spending time together.

Akina: This is probably the most important time of the day on radio. It’s when people get to hear from you, your insights, and your guests and their insights. and it’s a point of view that we don’t get every day. We don’t get in our newspapers, we don’t get in the general media. So I commend you.

Hamada: Thank you so much. Thank you, Keli’i, and the fact that we’re combined now with news-information That’s the bottom line and I’d love for you to share, and I’ll just start with a brief headline, that Grassroots initiatives are making its way through what I call “the big square building.”

Akina: That’s good news for everyone. We don’t represent any political party, We’re independent, but we represent what the people of Hawaii have, which is common sense. And you know, it’s a confusing thing to be down there at the legislature.

I’m sure it’s confusing for some of our legislators as well. 

And what we have done at the Grassroot Institute is bring good policies together, identify when our legislators are getting it right, and backing them with that. 

And I think there’s good news. You and I are going to talk about that today. We’re past the halfway mark in the legislature this year and there are some good things going on.

Hamada: I’d love to start there in the time that we have. Keli’i, would you mind sharing what’s top of mind with you?

Akina: Well, our governor deserves praise whenever he does something right And I want to shout that praise now. He’s issued a report called “The Hawai‘i We Deserve.” Maybe some of you have heard him talk about this.

There’s some good ideas that he brings up there. But what I really want to commend him for is he gets it right what’s wrong with Hawaii.

He points out that between 2019 and 2023, every day a couple dozen people left the islands, and that added up to about 22,000 people. We have one of the fastest rates of exodus from Hawaii. 

And, Rick, that’s ridiculous because this is the most beautiful place on Earth. The people are wonderful, the culture is wonderful, nature is spectacular. So why would people leave Hawaii? 

But the reality is this: We’ve got the second highest income tax burden next to Oregon. A family making the median income in Hawaii pays more than $5,000 in taxes. 

And you know, what’s going on in the economy isn’t helping us. Inflation is killing us.

And one of the ways that people don’t realize is that 90,000 people, because of inflation, have actually found themselves pushed into a higher tax bracket. And so just by sitting there doing nothing, they’re losing more money. 

So one of the good things about the governor’s report is he’s on record saying, “We’ve got to index the income tax to inflation. We’ve got to account for this runaway inflation by helping people to keep their money.”

 So that’s top of mind today. Take a look at it, “The Hawaii We Deserve from the governor.

Hamada: That’s, by the way, I’ve shared similar statistical data about the rankings of where we find ourselves. And in all honesty, I know over a period of time, it may get a little tedious to hear over and over again to where desensitization falls. We can’t allow that. We can’t accept this as the norm. This is what we need to change.

Is there anything within the governor’s plan that stands out to you to help resolve and really turn this whole ship around?

Akina: Well, I think the most important thing is recognizing the causes of our problem. In the most recent report, as I pointed out, he shows that the economic conditions are so heavy, they’re hurting the ordinary person and people are leaving the state. 

In a previous speech that he made in connection with his first emergency proclamation about housing, he pointed out that it is government regulation — in fact over regulation — that is pushing the cost of housing through the roof.

It’s not a lack of supply, it’s not a lack of land. What it is, is the extent to which governors put a burden on developers and even homeowners for any building or any growth. And that’s the problem.

Now, let me tell you why I think that’s a good thing. Because when government is finally saying we’re the problem, government is on the right track to finding a solution. 

And so I like the proposals that he’s come up with, such as mentioned earlier, [such as]: indexing income tax to the inflation rate. But also other things that seem small but they add up, increasing the value of child independent care tax credits and so forth.

So let’s encourage the governor to stay on track of actually applying solutions to the real problems. 

Hamada: It’s 8:50 in the morning. 

I’d like to also encourage the governor to reverse his decision on PLA [project labor agreement] because in invoking this as part of affordable housing, The irony is with private versus union. Now private companies must have mandatory compliance in areas such as prevailing wage and more. What do you view his PLA position to be?

Akina: Well basically the problem here is that this act discriminates against non-union companies. In the first place, unions don’t need more help to compete against non-union companies. And in the second place, nonunion companies actually need the freedom with which to compete in the market.

And so this kind of policy sounds good politically and it wins points politically, but in terms of actually helping the economy, helping business and helping the consumer, it goes the opposite direction.

Hamada: But changing the standards where “previously the bid minimum was[ $25 million, reducing it to $1.5 million to when this kicks in, I have some difficulty with that.

Akina: Absolutely. It’s a political move. 

Now, Rick, there’s something else that I don’t really like that the governor has done, and that is with regard to the TAT. No actually with regard to adding a $25 increase to what we charge tourists to come to Hawaii. 

It may not sound like a lot And it may be justifiable, if you think we paid more during the pandemic and tourists still came. 

But the reality is our tourists are paying more to come to Hawaii than to go to anywhere else in the country. And it really adds up. 

You recently interviewed one of my colleagues, Malia Blom Hill. 

Hamada: Yes. 

She’s a brilliant policy analyst. And she recently wrote a piece in the Star Advertiser in which she brought the research together. And she showed clearly that the research tells us that the higher tax rate you apply to tourists, the lower tourism you get.

Not only do tourists stay away, they also spend less. That’s what the research shows. 

And so not only are we going to hurt tourism, we’re going to hurt the businesses and consumers in Hawaii who rely on that.

Hamada: See this is an area where John Mathews, who you know and RPD, we had a conversation about and we agreed upon is that COVID and the subsequent actions in regard to tourism forced individuals to find alternatives.

Japan, one of our primary markets, in my humble estimation, is gone because of treatment, restriction, regulation, and now primarily cost. They’re discovering Hawaii, great. But let’s go there. Let’s go to the Philippines. Let’s go to any other destination. 

And I’m afraid that we have now lost what has been the quote-unquote golden goose.

Akina: That’s right. We kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. And our Japan market is just one of the stories. Japan certainly has its own economic problems, and the value of the yen against other currencies is a real issue for them. 

But that’s not the real problem with regard to Hawaii. We are adding To Japan’s problem by making it harder and more expensive for tourists to come here 

Hamada: Right. 

I want to turn over because we have about six minutes remaining, so I’d like these to be the most valuable six minutes in the history of broadcasts. So, Keli‘i, I’d like to turn it over to you for some thoughtful revelations, analysis and commentary.

Akina: Well, Rick, you know, we’ve got to go to the Aloha Stadium because I know your heart for sports. And I’ve got wonderful memories of both the old stadium — I’m one of those guys who talks about Mo‘’ili‘ili and so forth. Remember the good old days? — and then Aloha Stadium in Halawa. 

But the thing is this, we don’t have an NFL team. We don’t have a major sports franchise. We don’t have an economy that would support having the kind of stadium that we really deserve and want to have, which is sad, but it’s the reality. So we’ve got to spend what we can afford.

There’s a bill going through the legislature that would stop the funding going to Aloha Stadium in Halawa and instead shift money over to the University of Hawaii.

Well, if I don’t have enough money to do the big project that I want, then I want to do the best project that I can do. And that would be a real boost to our UH sports program and it would be good for the people of Hawaii. What do you think about that?

Hamada: I think, first and foremost. that we do require a state of the art facility because if it’s all about money, it’s not a fact that we don’t have the money, it’s a fact that we don’t have triage in the prioritization of the use of that money. 

Secondarily, if we cherish our University of Hawaii sports program, men’s football sports, it is the number one revenue generator that supports every sports program with both men and women. 

Secondarily to that with NIL and also with portal, you’re not going to attract, you’re not going to keep even the best of Hawaii players here in Hawaii without the support of a stadium that connotes success. 

And final thought, T.C. Chingfield, God bless America, We were able to have as a temporary but it was designed as a temporary.

There’s no way that you can elevate up to 25,000 and maintain the facility and the campus operations at the same time. It just doesn’t work and the people in the Manoa region, they don’t want it. So if we take into account all of that, I believe that we need a stadium, but done so correctly.

Akina: That’s right, and it must also be affordable 

Now there’s something happening at the legislature that makes me worry a bit. HR23 would declare, quote, disinformation, unquote as digital hate speech and threats to democracy. 

You know they’re talking about you Rick ]laughter[, over here and everyone who gets on the air or publicly speaks from their heart about what is true and good and I’ll say it — American.

And my concern is a law like this can easily be turned into censorship and can easily be used to actually defeat the First Amendment. We really have to say no about that.

Hamada: Yeah. The fact that it may cross over …

Akina: Yes. It tells you the way many of our legislators are thinking.

And on that point, I’d like to say, those of us who are on the air now and those of you who are listening to us, let’s get involved. Do whatever you can to let your legislators know what you think about some of these bills. 

In fact, if you want an easy way to do that, we have a program at Grassroot Institute called “Voter Voice.” Just go to our website and sign up. 

Our website is grassrootsinstitute.org. That’s grassrootsinstitute.org 

Hamada: A cautionary tale: I think that COVID was designed or at least was secondary in finding out how malleable the people are as citizens, constitutional citizens of the United States and the state. 

We demonstrated we were willing to roll over without virtually any resistance to the unconstitutional mandates delivered upon us. 

A bill like this, that trial balloon, is manifesting itself in this way. 

Do not allow your rights to be denied.

Akina: Absolutely. This is an election year and for no reason other than simply getting your vote, your politicians and those running for office are willing to listen to you. Give them an earful.

Akina: On that note, you mentioned the website but again, invite us over, please.

Akina: Take a look at grassrootinstitute.org. You’ll find information of great value, and you’ll be able to help influence your government.

Hamada: Dr. Keli‘i Akina is in our studio, and I want to thank you so very much for taking the time.

Akina: Rick, it’s been an honor. Thank you very much. Aloha.

 

---30---

Green Releases 'The Hawai‘i We Deserve' policy report

 

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