To: Senate Committee on Ways & Means
Attn: Chair Donovan Dela Cruz, Vice Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran, Committee members
Hawaiʻi Workers Center Testimony for March 4, 2021’s Committee Hearing
Supporting SB276 Relating to Income Tax, Which Would Temporarily Raise the Tax Rate by 5 Percent on Income Over $400,000 for Married Couples, $300,000 for Head-of-Household, And $200,000 for Singles Through The Year 2028
The Hawaiʻi Workers Center (HWC) is a resource and organizing center that addresses the issues and concerns of unemployed workers, low-wage workers and immigrants.
Tax fairness was an issue that we needed to work on before the pandemic. Right now, families who earn less than $20,000 per year pay 15% of their income in state and local taxes, and those who make over $450,000 pay only about 9%. As a part of the Coalition to Defend & Respect Hawaiʻi’s Workers, HWC calls on the legislature to implement a more progressive tax system where the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, and lift the burden off of working class and low income families.
In this recession, there have been calls to cut government spending to address the State of Hawaiʻi’s tightening finances, but that is not the answer that our communities deserve. Social service programs like public education, low-income housing assistance, unemployment insurance, SNAP (formerly food stamps), etc are crucial to working class and low income families and would be on the chopping block, alongside many of our public workers. When the wealthiest among us pay their fair share in taxes, we can prevent these cuts to essential services, public workers will be able to keep their jobs, and we can protect our communities. Studies of the Great Recession show that states that cut their budgets had higher unemployment, fewer private sector jobs, and shrinking economies. In contrast, states that expanded their budgets saw stronger economic growth. As the private sector recovers, the government needs to keep up its spending in order to keep the economy going for all of us.
Taxes on the wealthy should be permanent. The revenue generated by this measure can further help working class families by being directed toward fully funding public education, preparing our infrastructure for climate change, and establishing a state single-payer healthcare system. We can also use it to extend relief to the workers who are currently unemployed, furloughed, or have yet to be rehired/recalled back to their jobs.
One of the ways we can do this is to address the needs of workers who have been unable to file unemployment claims or who are having trouble with their current claims. For the past several months, we have been publicly advocating for unemployed workers, urging the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (DLIR) to reopen its unemployment offices and provide safe, direct, in-person services for the thousands of workers who have been furloughed or permanently laid off since March 2020. Given the poor condition of DLIR’s archaic mainframe computer, the difficulty of submitting a claim, and the department’s failure to be responsive to claimants’ emails and phone calls, direct servicing that keeps claimants and public employees safe is urgent and essential. Revenue from taxing the rich can also implement common-sense solutions like safely reopening DLIR offices in each county for direct in-person services, resolve staffing shortages and technological inadequacies at the Unemployment Insurance office, as well as open up computers in public spaces like libraries with trained staff. This will help to ensure that unemployed workers get served directly, allowing for families to be able to finally receive some relief.
Submitted by Rev. Sam Domingo, John Witeck, and Jun Shin of the Hawaiʻi Workers Center
Phone Number: 808-255-6663