The recent disaster in Japan will, undoubtedly, darken the economic outlook for our tourism-based economy. This could not have come at a worse time, as our state budget falters under its own weight.
The withering of tourist spending and subsequent tax revenues ought to worry everyone. It should, however, highlight the need for diversified contributors to our state economy. While the film, TV and alternative-energy industries are gleaming jewels of diversity, the once-magnificent manufacturing sector is being taxed and regulated into insignificance. In his budget to the Legislature the governor proposed a tax on sugary drinks. The discriminatory nature of the tax unjustly threatens the beverage manufacturing industry. The reason given for imposing the tax is that it will alter lifestyle and food choices that are unhealthy. It focuses on sugary drinks, even though obesity, diabetes and other health problems are caused by a wide variety of factors.
Fortunately, our legislators and our community understands that the responsibility of good health rests with the individual, not the government. They know that making healthy dietary choices starts at home, and is not a result of financially penalizing its citizens.
But the numbers don’t lie. We know that our dependence on the almighty tourism dollar means harder times are coming, and the tax on sugary beverages has again been singled out as a substantial source for revenue for filling depleted government coffers.
While it may outwardly seem that this tax affects “outside” or “national” companies, the truth is that it affects local jobs. It directly threatens local companies, owned by local people and operated by our friends and neighbors. This segment of the economy employs thousands of hard-working people (including myself) and indirectly supports businesses throughout the state. Farmers, truckers, mom and pop stores and countless others depend on our business to survive.
This tax will ultimately be paid at the checkout stand, where you and I will be charged more for that passion-orange-guava, iced tea or cola. The ripple effect of this tax will be felt by everyone who works to bring that drink to you.
At a time when we are faced with the uncomfortable task of tightening our belts and cutting out excess, it would seem only fair that the government did the same. While we are striving to be more efficient and better assets to our employers, it’s only right that the government should be working harder to be valuable to its boss: the people of Hawaii. This is the time when our government should be working to save jobs, stimulate local business and help our citizens stay off the unemployment line. We need to create and sustain needed economic growth. We don’t need new, discriminatory taxes.
I applaud all the senators and representatives who have defended local businesses and the individuals that they employ, but this legislative session is far from over, and we need our elected officials to stand up for the people of Hawaii.
Kent Kurihara is vice president of Hawaiian Sun Products Inc.