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Tax Foundation chief Lowell Kalapa dies

By Gordon Pang

LAST UPDATED: 09:18 p.m. HST, Dec 30, 2013

When lawmakers pushed for increasing the minimum wage, Lowell Kalapa argued it would hurt small businesses and the economy. When some wanted to raise the hotel room tax, he pointed out to them that rather than finding a convenient way to raise revenues without hitting the pocketbooks of taxpayers, they were taking money away from tourists that could have been spent on charter tours and souvenirs.

Lowell Kalapa, the longtime executive director of the nonprofit Tax Foundation of Hawaii, died today, the city medical examiner confirmed. He was 64.

A respected economic voice in the halls of both the state Capitol and Honolulu Hale, he preached fiscal restraint by lobbying for fairness and equity in taxes, reduced government spending and ensuring lawmakers and citizens alike understood the impacts of the measures introduced by state and county lawmakerss had on regular people.

Despite the often sour and blunt opinions he gave to their proposals, both Democratic and Republican leaders said they valued Kalapa's integrity, institutional knowledge and uncanny ability to dissect complex financial issues and make them easy for people to understand.

"There were times we disagreed, but he provided an opinion that was very straightforward, and he gave a pretty good history and perspective that were often missing," said House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke. "I don't know anyone who will be able to fill that void."

Luke said no one could explain the difference between the state's excise tax and a common sales tax like Kalapa could.

Even a political veteran like Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, a former Senate Ways and Means Committee chairwoman, said she always read Kalapa's testimony to gain insights and perspectives she might have missed. 

"You could always count on him to tell it like it is," Kim said. "There are just so many technical things on taxes, and you just can't be up on everything, so I'd always get a good cursory sense (of proposed legislation) by reading his testimony."

Kalapa was a graduate of Punahou School and received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

State Sen. Sam Slom, who preceded Kalapa as the foundation's president, credited Kalapa's journalism background for his ability to analyze and then explain clearly the complex financial issues facing the city and state.

More importantly, Slom said, "Lowell Kalapa will go down as the finest financial analyst and watchdog for taxpayers that we've ever had, and ever will. He's unequal and unmatched."

Former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano said Kalapa was a fiscal conservative and often at odds with his own views. Nonetheless, he said, he respected Kalapa "because he provided a very valuable voice, especially in this town where you don't have too many people speaking out on anything."

Service details were not immediately available.

Besides appearing before lawmakers, Kalapa had a weekly column in several Hawaii newspapers and also appeared regularly on radio and television.

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Iuki wrote:
Our state will miss him. He certainly was a well respected voice.
on December 30,2013 | 07:05PM
KimoSabey wrote:
Aloha Lowell, and more great stories will come to the forefront from every corner of Hawaii. Without hm their is no one speaking for the people about taxes and the repercusions of laws on all of us.
on December 31,2013 | 07:44AM
JohnD2 wrote:
He was a man who stood above the crowd. We all benefited from his wisdom and courage. R.I.P.
on December 30,2013 | 07:17PM
harley1 wrote:
taxed to death has a literal meaning......
on December 30,2013 | 07:25PM
marilynblee wrote:
What sad news. When I was Vice Chair of Finance in the House, Mr. Kalapa often gave wonderful explanations of tax related bills which helped House members to understand complex issues. Though we sometimes disagreed, his presence was always welcome at hearings, and his input invaluable. RIP, Mr. Kalapa Aloha, Marilyn Lee
on December 30,2013 | 07:35PM
wiliki wrote:
His advice was good for the history and background (wrt other states and cities. he did good research) in the long term. So often legislators are narrow minded and just focus on the short term effects and never consider social issues in subjects like casino style gambling. I hope legislators will remember that things like casino gambling are bad bad bad for Hawaii in the long term.
on December 30,2013 | 08:28PM
false wrote:
Did we see your name on any election ballot?
on December 30,2013 | 08:30PM
Papakolea wrote:
Deepest condolences to his family and friends. He was a man of reason and courage to stand up as an often lone voice against raising taxes.
on December 30,2013 | 07:39PM
soundofreason wrote:
Wonderful analyst and writer. Lost a good one here.
on December 30,2013 | 07:52PM
wiliki wrote:
I would prefer a real economist to fill Kalapa's shoes. So often all he said was Republican talking points.
on December 30,2013 | 08:23PM
false wrote:
What if a democrat filled the post? Would u agree?
on December 30,2013 | 08:29PM
Skyler wrote:
Yes, please diss the man now that he's gone. CLASSLESS, williki. Just CLASSLESS.
on December 30,2013 | 10:33PM
d_bullfighter wrote:
No ivory tower economists need apply. He represented the voice of reality and caution in a sea of Democratic spending.
on December 31,2013 | 05:24PM
false wrote:
Wonder if he could have done more as a legislator?
on December 30,2013 | 08:28PM
Maipono wrote:
A great, and respected authority on taxes, you could always count on him to have a substantive position on the subject. You will be missed, Aloha and thank you for your dedicated service to all the citizens of Hawaii, Republican or Democrat.
on December 30,2013 | 08:47PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
I am very sorry to see him go. He kept his foot on the brake when nearly all the legislators wanted to step on the gas.
on December 30,2013 | 08:55PM
2NDC wrote:
Great man who had a lot of very good points. Regardless of which political party would benefit from a particular issue, Mr. Kalapa would give a factual opinion and break down complex issues into their basic parts. This made it easy for the average citizen to form an opinion.
on December 30,2013 | 09:34PM
Anonymous wrote:
Condolences to his family. He'll surely be missed.
on December 30,2013 | 09:46PM
holumuahawaii wrote:
Lowell was a one of a kind voice, unique to his environment. He catered to none, bowed to none, was a slave to none. If Bob Dylan was right, and "everybody has to serve" someone or something, then Lowell served the people of Hawaii. If you knew him, say a silent prayer of gratitude. A great one just passed on.
on December 30,2013 | 10:01PM
st1d wrote:
a voice that merited being heard, silenced. a state in need, left . . .
on December 30,2013 | 11:38PM
ehrhornp wrote:
What a shock. He was so young. While I disagreed with him often, he seemed like a man of integrity. He will be missed.
on December 31,2013 | 04:50AM
KevinDayton wrote:
Lowell was a wonderful man. Even beyond his political activism, he gave much of himself for his community. Just one of his many accomplishments: He was a longtime and deeply involved board member for the non-profit Family Programs Hawaii, and worked hard to help foster families and foster kids. We need more like him.
on December 31,2013 | 07:11AM
KimoSabey wrote:
When the tax foundation needed money and we thought we would loose the services of this great man, tens of thousands of dollars came in from organizations like realtors and small business. It was Lowell not the foundation we wanted as he would give us level headed information and always be welcomed. Now without him we will not have the ability to get the service this great man gave. Aloha friend
on December 31,2013 | 07:41AM
eastside808 wrote:
Surely Hawaii's loss! He was always able to lend reasonableness to how and who should be taxed. Cant be said of our current and past legislators. Rest in peace Mr. Kalapa.
on December 31,2013 | 10:22AM
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