HILO, Hawaii – Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi was critical on Wednesday of the State of Hawaii’s distribution of the Transient Accommodations Tax to the four counties, which is likely to be millions less than what Kenoi says the counties should be getting.
“Frankly,” Kenoi told the Hawaii County Council during a budget review meeting in Hilo, “the counties should all stand up and say enough is enough.”
“We are supposed to be receiving $34 million dollars through the TAT,” Kenoi said. “Everyone one of us should be upset about that.”
Kenoi said the legislature decided to cap the counties’ share of the TAT – a hotel rooms tax – a couple years ago so that the state could make up a budget shortfall during the recession. It was understood to be a temporary cap, but the limit was never lifted. The last two years have seen record tourism numbers, and those revenue increases are going exclusively to the State of Hawaii. Kenoi was also upset by the legislature’s dismissal of a Dec. 2015 State-County Functions Working Group Report report, presented to lawmakers earlier this year.
“I think the counties – all of us – should be outraged!” Kenoi said. “Because, that extra $15 million dollars that should be coming to the County of Hawaii, is instead going to other programs and services with no impact in the County of Hawaii. And that’s fundamentally unfair.”
Kenoi said part of the original intent of the TAT was to help offset expenses related to the impact of the tourism industry to county services; things like lifeguards, emergency response, water and sewer use. The only other taxing authority the county has is through property taxes.
“Our seven representatives and our four senators should stand up for their island community!” Kenoi declared.
Tomorrow, Kenoi says the four council chairs, four HSC members and four mayors have a meeting with the heads of the state legislature on the pressing matter. The state is in the final steps of finalizing its budget and the county is also in the middle of its budget review at the same time.
“We are all right now at a critical point,” agreed councilmember Margret Wille, who has been active in the effort to restore the county share of the TAT.