CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES
Published in the Maui News, March 4, 2018
By: Mike White
Important measures pending at the state Legislature have the potential to adversely impact the operations of counties.
Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Senate Bill 2922, which proposes a constitutional amendment to establish a surcharge on residential investment property and visitor accommodations for the specific purpose of funding education.
Although the Department of Education receives almost 20 percent of the State of Hawaii’s budget, administrators, teachers, students and advocates have legitimate reasons to demand more funding to provide quality education for our keiki. But, the proposed measure is not a prudent way to raise revenue.
Real property taxes are the counties’ primary and largest source of revenue to fund county programs. The counties must account for expenses to ensure services such as transportation, sewer, water, fire, police and maintenance of parks are covered. Raising property taxes is the counties’ only reasonable option to balance the budget.
In many Mainland communities, local real estate taxes are used to support local schools. The communities decide for themselves what they can afford and tax their residents accordingly. In Hawaii, a decision was made decades ago to establish a statewide school and health care system, which differs from most of the nation, to be funded through state tax collections.
If lawmakers and the governor believe schools are underfunded, the Legislature should accept responsibility and appropriately fund education without causing financial challenges for the counties.
Another measure of interest is House Bill 1665, which passed the House of Representatives and proposes removing the counties’ annual share of the transient accommodations tax, or TAT. In its place, a reimbursement process is proposed for very specific expenditures such as mass transportation, ocean safety programs and cesspool conversions.
The bill does not consider the many other expenditures related to visitors that all four counties currently cover through the current $103 million TAT allocation.
This is in stark contrast to the state, which from fiscal years 2007 to 2017 saw its annual share increase by more than $291 million. However, it has placed no restrictions on how it uses the additional funds.
All the counties ask for is fairness and the ability to fully deliver services to residents without uncertainty in funding sources.
In County Council business, a special meeting was held this past week to finalize funding to remove eucalyptus trees on the county-owned right of way Upcountry on Piiholo Road.
Two options from the Department of Public Works were considered. The first proposed funding to cut, haul and dispose of 60 trees within the county right of way at a cost of $342,420.
A second option proposed cutting the same 60 trees, plus 300 trees on Piiholo Ranch property determined to pose similar risks of falling onto Piiholo Road, at a cost of $448,818. Under the second option, a contractor would be authorized to leave all 360 of the cut trees on the ranch’s property, without having to incur the considerable cost of hauling them away.
The first option was approved by the council, and Piiholo Ranch representatives have agreed to move forward with the second option through a partnership with the county.
At the same meeting, preliminary approval was given for a $2.35 million purchase of approximately 15,351 square feet of vacant land in South Maui.
The parcel is adjacent to county property and will allow for access to Kenolio Beach Reserve and provide valuable northern access to Waipuilani Park.
Funding will come from the Open Space, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources and Scenic Views Preservation Fund, which restricts use of the parcel, as specified in the County Charter.