The front doors of Honolulu Hale. Photo by Joel Bradshaw

Secular liturgy at the City Council

Stubborn Boogie
with Jamie Winpenny


Watching the Wednesday, March 16 Honolulu City Council meeting, a meeting that saw the first reading of a passel of bills to hike a variety of City fees and taxes, I was surprised and more than a little annoyed that there was almost no public testimony opposing, or supporting, any of the measures.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that no one wants to pay more for anything. Not for gas (a fuel tax hike is in the works), not for simply owning property (so is a property tax hike), not for pooping (your sewer fees are on the way up), and not for a round of golf at one of Honolulu’s municipal courses (not that I ever play them).

Okay, maybe paying a dollar more to go to the zoo is acceptable. But we should be able to ride a tiger.

I find that most of my family, friends, and colleagues are willing to pay more in taxes for municipal services and facilities. In conversation, no one is willing to simply roll over for a gouging.

People argue bar tabs, car repair bills, parking tickets, and any other imaginable levy on the privilege of living in a free society.

It’s value for the dollar that people are concerned about. Sewers that don’t flood our homes? Yeah, we’ll pay for those. Better roads? Those, too. But ask the people in Windward Oahu who get flooded out, or in, every time it rains how willing they are to pay more before that kind of infrastructure proves itself worthy of the taxes they already pay. They’re just not.

But when these matters come up in the establishment of codified public policy, as they did today, the same voices that decry being fleeced by “the man” are strangely silent.

The Hawaii Transportation Association was admirably present and vocal in opposition to a rise in the fuel tax at today’s council meeting. A couple of private citizens spoke against specifics contained in the City budget. Some council members questioned the fairness of increasing the cost of living in the ways set forth by the bills under consideration.

But it was more of a laundry list, read by an amiable, cracking-wise Council Chair Nestor Garcia (I think he’ll run for mayor), that was heard today in matters of rising demands on public dollars than it was an example public discourse. It was secular, civic liturgy.

Sure, the bills will go through two more readings before coming to a vote. There are more chances for people, and lobbies, for that matter, to squawk about getting gouged for City services that are already proven to be substandard. We’ll see pickets, placards, and the protesters behind them when the inexorable rise of the cost of living on Oahu becomes a reality for those who would oppose it.

Where the hell were these people, we the people, when first given the chance to make, and not change, history?

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