(BIVN) – Hawaii County Council chair Valerie Poindexter spent a lot of time on Oahu during the legislator’s special session on rail, making sure lawmakers understood the viewpoint and perception of neighbor island residents.
Many on Hawaii Island were unhappy with the proposal to raise the hotel room tax on all islands by one percent in order to generate about half of the $2.39 billion in revenue needed to fund the completion of the City & County of Honolulu project.
The bill also extends the general excise tax surcharge, only on Oahu, for three additional years.
The State House of Representatives voted to pass Senate Bill 4 on Friday, funding Honolulu’s $8.2 billion rail project. The final tally was 31 yes, 15 no and five excused.
Poindexter was present for many of those divided votes, and she testified on August 30 during a House Committee hearing on the bill. She was only given two minutes to testify.
“Our visitors are already being taxed for county services through the TAT and our counties are not receiving our fair share from that TAT to cover those costs,” Poindexter said. “As you are all aware, we had to raise our property taxes this year. Rail is a City and County of Honolulu project that the neighbor islands should not be responsible for, as we don’t expect the City and County of Honolulu to be responsible for projects in our County.”
“I just want to ask that this bill not be passed as is,” the council chair continued. “And we get away from the attitude of take it or leave it because we all know that you have the capability of making a change. Amending it. Extending it. Giving our tax payers on the other islands the opportunity to weigh in. This is such an important bill that affects the outer islands and we have never been given that opportunity for you to come over and allow us that.”
Representative Matthew LoPresti took umbrage to the neighbor island narrative. “Leaders on the neighbor islands are continuing this false narrative somehow that we’re raising their taxes and that’s not true,” LoPresti told Poindexter.
Kona’s representative Nicole Lowen also spoke to Poindexter during the hearing. “I don’t think that people are generally aware of the impact this (GET) surcharge – the impact of the GET in general – but the impact the surcharge has on Big Island.”
“Everything a lot of you have said, I agree with you,” Poindexter answered. “We need to take this information to our taxpayers. We’re saying – we’re relying on Facebook, we’re relying on people calling my office or calling each other – and creating this wild forest fire. Why? Because we have not vetted this bill properly. As important as it is, we have not given it to the people to understand.”
“Has it ever bothered anyone that our constituents are helping pay for (the rail) and that the city and county (of Honolulu) has been unwilling to look at increasing property taxes one cent to help fund any small piece of this project? While our rates are double?” Lowen asked. “I feel like there is, right now at this point in time, the worst relationship there has ever been on all the neighbor islands because of this, and because of what is being handed down you know from City and County of Honolulu.”
“The legislators have created a perception that we mean nothing and being very disrespectful,” Poindexter said. “I felt disrespected up here. But that’s okay, that’s how it goes. But you gotta be fair because we both create those perceptions.”