Tax relief plan falls far short of what was promised to working families

Facing a 6 pm deadline Friday, most of the legislature gathered in a single room to pound out...
Facing a 6 pm deadline Friday, most of the legislature gathered in a single room to pound out votes on bills.(HNN)
Published: Apr. 30, 2023 at 8:42 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 30, 2023 at 10:35 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After prioritizing tax relief for low and moderate-income families and repeatedly promising tax cuts in the range of $350 million, the legislature is poised to approve a plan offering more than $200 million less.

Details of the plan remained fuzzy Saturday after Friday afternoon and evening’s frenzied close of the legislatures conference committee sessions.

As recently as Thursday, Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki were publicly describing the tax package as between $300 and $350 million, although the options for how to provide relief were still up in the air.

In the end, they approved House Bill 954, which increases the amounts for the income tax brackets and personal exemption and standard deduction amounts (and provided annual cost-of-living adjustments); amends the taxable income brackets and income tax rates for each filing status; increases the household and dependent care services tax credit; increases the refundable earned income tax credit; and increases the income thresholds and credit amounts of the refundable food/excise tax credit.

The legislature had earlier rejected exempting food and medical care from the excise tax. On the final day, they also rejected giving all residents a one-time tax credit and several other tax breaks.

House Speaker Saiki told Hawaii News Now Saturday that the total value of the tax relief package was “approximately $128 million.”

The tax relief package may have been reduced as lawmakers decided to fund other high-priority spending programs. However, the highly-touted promise of relief for families living “paycheck to paycheck” will not have the hoped-for impact.

In Friday’s frantic negotiating sessions, many lawmakers complained about slow, contradictory, and poorly communicated decisions from Finance Committee leaders under the supervision of Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita, who was in his first session as chair. Yamashita has consistently refused to speak to the media, even to explain decisions his members have already voted on.