Totten favors reform of regressive tax structure


Hawaii’s tax structure is regressive, state Senate 3rd District Republican hopeful John Totten says.

“The burden is on the person at the lowest economic level,” said Totten, 63, a retired county real property appraiser. “We need to generate revenue from currently untapped sources.”

He’d like to stop applying the general excise tax on groceries and medical expenses.

That alone will ease some of island residents’ cost of living worries.

Hawaii can make up some of the revenue by implementing a state lottery, he said, noting the state is one of just seven in the country without a lottery.

Hawaii has been unable to start up a lottery because of the lobbying efforts of Nevada’s gaming industry, where many Hawaii residents take their gambling money.

Other state residents are gambling here illegally, he said. Secondly, he’d like to begin taxing retirees’ pensions, something Gov. Neil Abercrombie proposed as part of his budget-balancing measures this year.

He’d levy that tax on anyone earning more than $100,000 annually in a pension, and only on income in excess of $100,000, he said.

The state also needs to align its vehicle registration taxes with the process many other states use, basing the tax on vehicle value, not weight, Totten said.

Cronyism is to blame, in part for the problem in finding funding for school buses, he said.

“We need to make the bus accessible to students in more rural areas,” he said. “We could deal with (some of the problems) by fine-tuning the bus schedule.”

He said charter schools can also help improve the state’s education system.

“What we need to explore is the utilization of charter schools to ease the burden on our public schools,” Totten said.

He criticized the Legislature’s decision to move forward on a Kona Judiciary complex, estimated to cost $90 million, rather than using that money to fund more post-secondary educational opportunities in West Hawaii.

“They got funding for the judges, and the West Hawaii (college) campus is talk, talk, talk,” he said.

Totten said he isn’t convinced by solar or wind as renewable energy alternatives.

Expanding geothermal production would be a better way to reduce the state’s fossil fuel consumption. Any moves in that direction need to be funded by the utilities themselves, he added.

“They’re the ones who benefit,” he said. “This can be done.”

Totten expressed criticism about Hawaii’s bottle bill, calling the deposit program a “scam.”

“Only 30-some percent of the recyclable containers are ever recycled,” he said, noting people pay 6 cents for a deposit but only get 5 cents back. “Our environment is the No. 1 concern. Let’s improve our recycling program and efforts.”

He’d like to see the state begin a program to purchase coastal and open lands, using money from the general fund.