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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

City budget cannot become political game

It would be wise to take the apocalyptic comments by Harris administration officials on the latest City Council budget proposal with at least a small grain of salt.

If the council did indeed push through Councilman Charles Djou's plan for a $24 million cut in operating budget expenses, it would not be the end of the world as we know it. After all, the overall operating budget is $1.178 billion. Surely the city would manage to limp along somehow.

Nonetheless, we have to agree with Mayor Jeremy Harris and Budget Director Ivan Lui-Kwan that the trims do not make good management sense.

The city has not increased property taxes for many years now — a wise political move, perhaps, but an increasingly risky game in the face of rising costs and increasing citizen demand for services.

Harris has made a convincing case, we believe, that the time has come for some modest upward adjustment in property taxes. If he is to be faulted, it is for not inching up property taxes in smaller increments in previous years.

The political heat this year over a proposed property tax increase (as well as increases in a number of city fees) is because they have come all at once. They loom large, and the political pressure to find an alternative is understandable.

But city operations should not be brought to their knees simply to make a political point. The job now — for both the council and Harris — is to sit down and come up with a spending plan that reasonably meets Honolulu's needs and expectations. At that point, they can set taxes at a rate that will support the plan.