CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES
Published in The Maui News, April 9, 2017
By MIKE WHITE
An important deadline is approaching at the state Legislature on Thursday called the second crossover of bills. Both the House and Senate must conclude reviewing bills from the opposite chamber and agree or disagree with any amendments. Differences head to conference committee for further negotiations.
The counties, therefore, have one last opportunity to make a case on important measures before the Legislature adjourns on May 4.
A critical bill that must pass is Senate Bill 562, which grants limited liability protection for county lifeguards and counties providing lifeguard services on beaches or in the ocean.
The protection is set to “sunset,” or end, on June 30. Without an extension, major liability concerns will arise. This would also force Maui County to re-evaluate providing lifeguard services at state beaches such as Makena State Park. Simply put, this will extend protections the state granted to itself decades ago, but has refused to permanently offer to counties.
Senate Bills 683 and 686 also threaten the counties’ authority by adding a real property tax surcharge of $7 per $1,000 of value on residential investment properties. The added revenue would be used to fund the state’s education program. Advocates of these measures have legitimate reasons to demand more funding to provide quality education, but real property taxes as source of funding is questionable.
A decision was made decades ago to establish a statewide school system, which differs from most of the nation, and is funded through state tax collections. If lawmakers believe schools are underfunded, they should find additional monies without causing financial challenges for the counties. The state, after all, has many options to raise revenues, whereas counties only have real property taxes.
In addition to this, House Concurrent Resolution 169 requests the state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism to convene a tax reform working group to study whether to transfer real property taxing authority back to the state, and allocating a portion of the general excise tax revenues to the counties instead.
I strongly oppose this proposal. Even the state DBEDT director expressed lack of resources to conduct such task force.
Real property tax is the biggest source of revenue for the counties, not only in Hawaii but also throughout the nation. The state now is looking to take it away. The counties depend on the ability to adjust property taxes to balance the needs of our communities. Each island is different and has varying priorities. This shows the state’s lack of understanding of our operations and funding.
A similar state working group was convened a few years ago to recommend changes to the transient accommodations tax, or TAT, distribution. It was determined that a split of 45 percent should be allocated to the counties and 55 percent to the state. The Legislature declined to listen to the working group and even disputed its findings. The creation of yet another working group is unnecessary and simply a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.
The intent and conversation behind all these measures show inept judgment of the state to manage the people’s money. Instead of focusing on measures to stimulate economic development such as introducing efficiency tools in tax collection, these measures offer an easy way out. The Legislature is essentially proposing to “rob Peter to pay Paul” instead of living within our means. Unfortunately, residents are the ones who ultimately pay the price in the end.
Opportunities to collaborate still exist. In the eyes of most constituents, we are neither the state nor county — only public servants, and we need your help reminding state legislators about this fact.
Please visit mauicounty.us/2017stateleg to review testimonies I’ve submitted so far and contact my office if you would like to participate.
* Mike White is chairman of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.