(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi State House passed a bill on third reading that would give the County of Hawaiʻi greater flexibility in how it spends its general excise tax surcharge revenue.
HB 1394 HD 1 “authorizes any county with a population equal to or less than 500,000 that adopts a county surcharge on state tax ordinance to use the surcharges received from the State for infrastructure and public safety.”
The bill has the full support of Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim, however Big Island state lawmakers appeared skeptical during the March 5 vote.
“I understand why the neighbor islands want the flexibility,” said State Representative Joy San Buenaventura, who was elected to serve the eruption-ravaged Puna district, “but until they fix our roads and until everyone gets proper access back to their roads and back to their farms, I need to be in opposition.”
“The current mass transit system is very lacking,” said Rep. Richard Onishi on the House floor, “to the point where school children in my district are unable to sometimes participate in extra curricular activities because the school bus leaves right after school ends and there is no way to get back to their communities.”
“Re-purposing this money at the county’s discretion is bad policy and it doesn’t equally affect every county in the state,” Rep Onishi said.
“When the county passed its quarter percentage back when the eruption was ongoing, they then pulled their mass transit budget and just replaced it with the amount of revenue they would expect to receive from [the GET surcharge],” said Rep. Nicole Lowen. “I don’t have any confidence that if they are given this expanded uses that its going to further the purposes what they say its for.”
“The mass transit system on Hawaii Island is the furthest behind in the state and in West Hawaiʻi we have basically nothing,” Rep. Lowen said.
Mayor Kim said securing the added flexibility in how the GET surcharge funds can be spent is a “top priority” this legislative session.
“Please be assured that it is not our intent to downgrade transportation, which is the present beneficiary of GET funding,” Mayor Kim said. “Rather, each County has expressed different unmet needs for which a funding source has yet to be identified; for example, “public safety” for Hawai‘i County, or “infrastructure” for Kauai. Higher contributions to ERS and other post-employment benefits have had significant impacts on our ability to fund operations throughout the county. For Hawai‘i Island, dealing with multiple natural disasters, the cost of providing public safety during these events has taken its toll and depleted our funds.”
Rep. San Buenaventura was the only “no” vote, and Big Island Reps. Richard Creagan, Richard Onishi and Nicole Lowen voted aye with reservations.
The bill moved to the Senate, passed first reading, and has been referred to committee.
A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1428 SD 1, passed third reading and has crossed over to the House.