The Big Squeeze: an analysis of tax and fee increases island residents are expected to pay

HILO — Oh, the bills!

In a fit of pique, you crumble up the latest one and toss it into the trash. That’s going to cost you. In fact, if you rely on trash service rather than hauling your own garbage to a transfer station, it probably costs you 27.1 percent more this year than last year. That’s how much haulers were hit for, and they’re probably going to pass that increase along.


You reach for a glass of water while you calm down. But that will cost you, too. Water bills are up an average of 8 percent for residential users. Not to mention the sewer charges, which the county plans to raise 44 percent next year.

You shut off your lights and head out the door. Good thing you remembered to flip that switch — electricity is up about 7.4 percent from last year and Hawaii Electric Light Co. is asking for a 3.4 percent hike.

You climb into your car and turn the ignition. Don’t rev that engine; gasoline is up 19.2 percent over last year. And gas taxes are up 26.7 percent, following an astonishing 70.5 percent the year before. Not to mention the extra $5.81 for your safety sticker.

Going to the store? Better stock up. General excise taxes are going up 6.3 percent Jan. 1, an increase that will affect everything you buy at retail as well as other goods and services. Speaking of retail, prices are probably going up too, as Matson, the container carrier that brings us most of our goods, slapped a fuel surcharge on its cargo that’s 41.3 percent higher than last year.

Now you might think a stay-cation is in order. Work off some of that stress, stay at a comfy Big Island resort, lounge in the pool, have a drink at the tiki bar. Guess what? That costs more this year, too, thanks to the state Legislature last year adding 1 percent to the transient accommodations tax on hotels and short-term lodging.

If you opt for a short-term vacation rental home instead, that may not cost quite as much more next year, but it’s likely to go up in 2020, as the county administration figures out a way to create a new property tax class to get its share of the revenue being thrown around by this burgeoning industry.

Maybe you’d better just stay home. And, you guessed it. That’s more expensive, too. Property values are up 4 percent, and if you rent, your monthly payments are probably up, thanks to a 10.4 percent property tax increase for rental homes, and 7.8 percent for apartments imposed last year.

No problem, some might say. Prices go up, the cost of goods goes up, taxes go up. But so do salaries.

Not so fast. While double-digit raises as high as 37 percent for the county’s top administrators gained headlines, rank-and-file union workers are seeing raises, step increases and bonuses working out to about 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.


And the rest of us? Our annual household income grew about 3.4 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the latest estimates available from the U.S. Census Bureau, released earlier this month.

Feeling a little squeezed lately? You may have good reason.

  1. beyond kona December 23, 2018 11:18 am

    Let me tell you how it will be
    There’s one for you, nineteen for me
    ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
    Should ten per cent appear too small
    Be thankful I don’t take it all
    ‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman…
    And you’re working for no one but me.

  2. JTTRI December 23, 2018 12:34 pm

    Yellow Vest time. you thieving MFers

  3. Buds4All December 23, 2018 3:18 pm

    I suggest we go to the politicians homes and their relatives homes protest. When they are out in public let them know they are not welcome out in public. make their lives, their families lives, their children’s lives and any of their friends a living hell!

  4. Nope December 23, 2018 9:45 pm

    Hawaii county has not only a tax problem, but also a pension problem! Nothing really new, but it will affect the population with insane tax increases.

  5. antifaHI December 23, 2018 10:21 pm

    And if you save money, you lose it’s value as you barely get any interest on it. Getting the middle class into debt is the best way to control them. The poor have only debt, while the rich and corporations have their banks offshore. Let’s face it, the USA is morally and financially bankrupt. Only it’s sheer size and military keep it somewhat in place.

  6. Tako December 24, 2018 6:48 am

    The populous of Hawaii cracks me up. You guys are down and out blue and taxes is what blue does. Yet you keep voting them in? From a guy who can afford, it’s very funny to watch.

  7. Travis Burgeson December 25, 2018 3:48 pm

    I’m disappointed WHT chose to frame its analysis of taxes levied on citizens in a negative tone more suitable for an opinion piece. As a result, it merely fuels anti-tax and anti-government sentiment by accentuating the “squeeze” theme in an article that should have been what it purports to be—-an objective analysis.

    There is no doubt Hawaii County residents like to complain about being taxed, as evidenced by the comments in reply to the article. But the perception and reality of feeling “squeezed” is a different article.

    There is a good amount of information in the piece about taxation in Hawaii County and even the rationale for it, but as I’ve stated, it exists in an negative framework, not presented as objective analysis and reporting as good journalism requires. It plays to a negative bias against taxes.

    There is a companion piece that could run with what should have been a separate article about residents feeling squeezed by taxes—-one about voter turn out. Unless people become engaged and organize in ways to demand accountability from elected officials and county employees, nothing will change. Democracy requires active engagement, not lining up behind master complainers who, as most complainers, don’t have practical solutions to real problems.

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