New laws cost taxpayers’ money, and Hawaii Republican legislators want a clearer accounting of how much.
A measure introduced by the Republican minority would put a price tag on every bill with a financial impact, which they said would increase government transparency and accountability.
Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t require some form of fiscal notes attached to bills, according to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which promotes free markets and small government.
"Of course you look at the price tag because you can’t go out and buy something if you don’t know how much it costs," said Frances Nuar, a policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute. "It’s the responsibility of the Legislature not only to look at the merits of a bill, but how we’re going to pay for it."
The measure hasn’t been scheduled for a public hearing, a required first step for it to move through the process toward becoming law.
House Legislative Management Chairman Kyle Yamashita questioned the value of spending state money to create vague cost projections when the state Department of Taxation already provides estimates on many bills.
"Numbers evolve through the process. That’s why we have a process, to vet those things," said Yamashita (D, Pukalani-Ulupalakua), who hasn’t decided whether to give the bill a hearing. "We do have mechanisms in place to be transparent and get these numbers."
The proposal calls for memos to be attached to bills with financial implications, disclosing their total estimated costs, funding sources and projections of price growth over the next five years.
"The Legislature, and certainly the public, needs to know what the total cost of that bill is going to be," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai).
"This basically allows for decision-making by elected leaders and the public," said Rep. Kymberly Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point).
Most bills that require funding contain a dollar sign and a blank space next to it, where legislators later insert the cost when they have a better grasp of the state budget.
Price estimates are sometimes included in testimony from the state department that would be responsible for implementing a law if it passes, but those figures often change as bills get amended during the legislative process.
"A lot of people are unclear on how the budget process works, so maybe something like this could help," said Hawaii Common Cause Executive Director Nikki Love, who didn’t take a position on the fiscal notes proposal.