(BIVN) – Ashley Kierkiewicz and Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder were uneasy with a proposal to raise the GET surcharge in Hawaiʻi County.
Both councilmembers reluctantly voted to advance Bill 19 with a positive recommendation during the Hawaiʻi County Council Finance Committee meeting Monday in Hilo. But they had some thoughts to share with Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim and Finance Director Deanna Sako before doing so.
“I understand this is a small tax increase, but it is another tax increase,” said district 5 councilman Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder, “and again – back to the economy being what it is right now – I don’t feel like this is a great time to throw taxes on people.”
Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder, whose family operates the Liko Lehua cafes in East Hawaiʻi, told Mayor Kim and Sako that “we have been cutting hours, we actually closed down Kaumana for our just for a lack of income, and I just think the economy needs to be at a better place in my eyes before we start jumping on increasing taxes.”
Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder was also uneasy with County efforts to get the authority, through hopeful state legislation, for expanded flexibility as far as how the revenue from the tax is spent. Right now, by law, the collected revenue can only be spent on transportation-related expenses.
“To know that we have more flexibility wanted, and that it doesn’t serve my district in a lot of aspects that it does other districts,” Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said, “I have a hard time saying yes.”
“I’m sure you can appreciate the pickle that I’m in,” said district 4 councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz. “I’m having to go to the legislature and hustle for lower Puna. We are asking the ledge for $155 million dollars and it’s very clear; I’m in touch with House and Senate leadership and they are saying, ‘Ashley, you got to exercise some courage and rage that GET if you want some money.’ They are watching our every move but at the same time I cannot stomach raising the GET when we have people that are in Puna begging to go home.”
“What are we gonna do to assure people of lower Puna that are lava locked out of their homes and farms that, yes, we are gonna get these folks back home, that this is a priority of the council and the administration,” Kierkiewicz asked Mayor Kim and Sako. “I cannot ask them to support an increase in the taxes if we haven’t even made an effort to take care of them. I know a lot is happening in the background and that we’re lining up funding to make sure that we can get people home over emergency roads, but we got to move fast enough.”
“I feel like if I can get assurances from the administration today that we can in fact see some progress sooner rather than later then perhaps I’ll entertain moving this forward,” Kierkiewicz said.
“I think it will be publicized soon that we have identified Highway 132 to begin the planning and only the planning because we can’t do anything at else this point,” Mayor Kim responded.