Commentary: Councilwoman Ruggles “Call to Action” on Gas Tax Increases

Help to protect Puna and low-middle income families from having to pay more at the pump.

Mayor Kim is proposing a 261% increase to the fuel tax over the next 2 years. Fuel taxes are an especially regressive type of tax and will disproportionately affect Puna residents. We need to explore other options for raising revenue, and need the public to have their voices heard.

Details: Tomorrow evening, May 31st at 5 pm  at the Hilo Council Chambers (25 Aupuni st.) the County Council will consider this increase, and you can testify from any satellite council locations as well, including the Pahoa Neighborhood facility (15-2710 Kauhale Street Pāhoa). The proposal will double fuel taxes from 8.8 cents per gallon to 19 cents beginning July, and then increase it to 23 cents by 2019.

Why I am Opposed to Increasing the Fuel Tax:

1) Fuel tax is regressive:
If the entire population pays the same rate of taxes and there are no exemptions or tax credits, then residents of  a lower socio-economic status are, by default, paying a higher percentage of their income towards that tax than individuals earning a higher income. Thus, a family of 4 living on $30k annually will be more affected by a raise than a family of 4 living on $200k annually.

2) Puna Residents will be disproportionately burdened:
We will be disproportionately burdened because we will be paying a greater percentage in fuel taxes while simultaneously receiving the least benefit from the tax:

A. Puna has the highest  percentage of people living below the federal poverty level in the state of Hawaii. Thus, more people in Puna will be negatively affected by this regressive tax than people in other districts.

B. The majority of Puna residents must drive long distances for food, work, college, and doctor’s appointments, etc. On average, Puna residents are more than likely driving further on a daily basis then residents of other districts which means that they will pay a higher percentage of the County’s total fuel tax revenue than residents of other districts.

C. As of now, fuel tax revenue can only be spent on County owned roads. The majority of Puna’s roads are considered private which means that fuel tax revenue cannot be used to improve or maintain the substandard subdivision roads of Puna.

D. Because the distribution of fuel taxes is based on the miles of county road in each district and most of Puna’s roads are private, there is a correlation that while we may drive much more than Hilo residents, we have less county roads, and are therefore receiving less benefit than residents in Hilo are. Based on the distribution formula we are likely paying a higher percentage than are receiving in benefit.

Councilwoman Jen Ruggles

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