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Tax Foundation chief Lowell Kalapa dies

  • PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA
    20100211-29 EDT KALAPA Lowell Kalapa, President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, is this week's Name in the News subject. This is Lowell Kalapa at the state capitol waiting for the "Hawaii Income, General Excise and Use Tax Exemptions/Exclusions, Deductions and Tax Credits" presentation to start in the Senate Ways and Means committee room. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. FEB. 11, 2010.
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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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