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Remembering Lowell Kalapa

2 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

I’m sad to learn that Lowell Kalapa, the long-time President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, passed away yesterday. Although ours are competely separate and independent organizations (TF-Hawaii is the only licensed use of our name), Lowell was a good friend of ours and of taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. payers, and worked tirelessly for good government and common sense. He was essentially a one-man watchdog and revenue scoring office, respected across the aisle. We talked a lot on the phone and by e-mail. When I took a personal trip to Hawaii two years ago, Lowell spared a few hours for a lunch that I didn’t want to end, learning about the state’s tax policy from him and sharing strategy ideas. We brought Lowell to the mainland to speak at a few conferences because he was always persuasive, engaging, and smart.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser records similar sentiments:

“There were times we disagreed, but he provided an opinion that was very straightforward, and he gave a pretty good history and perspective that were often missing,” said House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke. “I don’t know anyone who will be able to fill that void.”

Luke said no one could explain the difference between the state’s excise taxAn excise tax is a tax imposed on a specific good or activity. Excise taxes are commonly levied on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, soda, gasoline, insurance premiums, amusement activities, and betting, and typically make up a relatively small and volatile portion of state and local and, to a lesser extent, federal tax collections. and a common sales taxA sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding. like Kalapa could.

Even a political veteran like Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, a former Senate Ways and Means CommitteeThe Committee on Ways and Means, more commonly referred to as the House Ways and Means Committee, is one of 29 U.S. House of Representative committees and is the chief tax-writing committee in the U.S. The House Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over all bills relating to taxes and other revenue generation, as well as spending programs like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance, among others. chairwoman, said she always read Kalapa’s testimony to gain insights and perspectives she might have missed.

“You could always count on him to tell it like it is,” Kim said. “There are just so many technical things on taxes, and you just can’t be up on everything, so I’d always get a good cursory sense (of proposed legislation) by reading his testimony.”[…]

Former Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano said Kalapa was a fiscal conservative and often at odds with his own views. Nonetheless, he said, he respected Kalapa “because he provided a very valuable voice, especially in this town where you don’t have too many people speaking out on anything.”

My deepest condolences to his family.