Taxes, housing drive people from Hawaii, policy group says

High taxes and a lack of affordable housing are likely behind the exodus of people from Hawaii, according to Keli'i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Hawaii lost about 7,000 residents between July 2021 and July 2022.

International migration brought 5,785 people to the Aloha state, but more than 15,000 left the state. The state's natural increase was 2,460 based on nearly 16,000 births and more than 13,300 deaths, according to the Census Bureau.

The state's population has declined every year since 2016, according to Akina.

"Too many local families who have lived in Hawaii for generations are seeing their children move to the mainland or out of the country to better support themselves," Akina said. "In addition to facing this emotional toll, those of us who still live in Hawaii are left to foot the bill for our oversized government."

Akina is encouraging lawmakers to lower taxes and create affordable housing options. The Grassroots Institute talked to residents who no longer live in the state in a series called "Why We Left Hawaii."

"Rent is far too high, even if splitting the costs with a friend," former Wahiawa resident Colyn Slocum said in the Institute's series. "One day, I do wish to return. But until the economic possibilities make it appealing enough, there is little to incentivize anything other than a few return trips."

Gov. Josh Green, who was sworn in last month, said in his first budget address that affordable housing was one of his top priorities.

His proposed budget also includes $15 million in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for the Ohana Zones pilot program that has placed 1,368 people into permanent housing. Another $10.8 million is set aside for the Rapid Re-Housing and Housing First programs.

The governor is also pitching a plan that would eliminate the excise tax on food and medicine. Lawmakers have yet to indicate if they support Green's plan.

"Lawmakers and special interests for a long time have been used to a certain amount of revenue, so making do with less will be difficult," Tom Yamachika, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, told The Center Square. "Spending will have to be reined in."

Lawmakers begin the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 18.

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