Background information on revenue estimates for new legislation now open to the public

Data and information relied upon by the Hawaii Department of Taxation to make revenue estimates — or evaluate the cost of new legislation on taxpayers — has not been subject to public review, until recently. In a decision earlier this month, a Hawaii state court judge upheld a ruling by the Hawaii Office of Information Practices (OIP) which directed the tax department to make background information used to create revenue estimates open to the public. 

Despite the central role of the tax department’s background information in evaluating how much a piece of legislation will cost taxpayers, and in turn how the cost might be broadcast to taxpayers, the information was not previously available for public review.

The newfound accessibility of this information could alter the landscape for health policy debates in the upcoming legislative session. Here is a recap of notable pieces of health care legislation that passed last session.

It’s an important case because for a long time the department has given revenue estimates to legislators and we have no idea where they get these numbers from, and they wouldn’t tell anybody where they got those numbers from,” Tom Yamachika, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, told the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The legal challenge was prompted by Ray Kamikawa, a tax attorney and former Department of Taxation director.  

According to supporters of the ruling, the source of numbers upon which revenue estimates are based should be made public so that people can scrutinize the estimates for themselves, and respond accordingly. 

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

As a result of the ruling, lawmakers will be permitted to challenge tax department estimates and present their own analysis. The ruling rebuts a decision by the tax department to withhold underlying data supporting revenue estimates for a 2016 House bill

The tax department has argued that the data is exempt under an exception for legislative offices, an argument which was rejected by the OIP. 

Those in favor of the ruling have advocated for the use of an independent legislative fiscal office to analyze new legislation. While the existence of such an office was promulgated by a 1990 state law, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported that Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, stated that the legislature has never funded the office. 

Whether the ruling will push lawmakers to fund the office remains to be seen.