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President of Hawai’i Island Chamber of Commerce Statement on Pending Special Session on Honolulu Rail Project

Hawai‘i Island State Representatives and Senators

Re: Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system funding

Dear Representatives and Senators,

From August 28 to September 1 the Hawai‘i Legislature will be in session to assist the City and County of Honolulu with the capital for funding the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system. We thank you for this opportunity to voice our concern and opinion in this matter.

We understand that the Legislature will be considering proposals including:

  • Maintaining the current general excise tax (“GET”) rate premium for applicable Oahu transactions through 2037.
  • Increasing the transient accommodations tax (“TAT”) rate for applicable services on Oahu.
  • Increasing the TAT rate for applicable services on all islands
  • Assessing premium GET taxes on a statewide basis.

The Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce strongly recommends funding the capital shortfall for the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit system by extending the GET for transactions in the City and County of Honolulu only. We note the following:

  • Uncomfortable as it is to point out, the shortfall is primarily the result of management decisions made by an agency of the City and County of Honolulu. Neighbor islands were not part of either the management or the process. Asking the residents and visitors of the neighbor islands to pay for this process gone awry is not reasonable. Services provided by HART will be provided only on Oahu benefitting primarily Oahu residents and not the residents of the neighbor islands. We believe any impact should be borne by the future users of HART.
  • A major argument against simply allowing the GET on Oahu to continue is that this tax is regressive. However, this argument glosses over several economic realities that businesses face every day. Taxes of any kind increase the total price paid by the buyer. Higher prices for any good or service result in some level of reduced demand – if not for that service, for other services where those dollars may have been spent:
  1. While we do not know the number of travelers who will choose not to travel to Hawaii because of a higher TAT – there is no doubt that at the margin some will choose not to come here or to delay a trip.
  2. Some of those who do come will find that they must curtail their spending while here in order to stay within their budget.

In either of these cases, the dollars spent on goods and services in Hawaii will be reduced. The ripple effect of reduced spending will be a reduction in employee hours (and jobs) absorbed almost exclusively by employees at the lowest rung on the employment ladder. In short, these employees will suffer by losing income much more dramatically than they would if the current 0.5% premium in GET taxes is maintained on Oahu.

Beyond this, there is the simple equity issue. Should we be charging those who have no vote (tourists) for services that they are not likely to use – simply because they have no vote? This is not the right decision.

  • Finally, the City and County of Honolulu – most affected by Rail – has stated firmly that its choice is to fund by extending the GET through 2037. If that is their choice, it is not clear to us why we should over reach to further manage their decision.

Sincerely,
Bill Walter, President

Cover Sheet to Pending Rail Bill to Be Voted On

Here is the cover sheet of the Senate version of the rail bill that Hawaii Legislators will be voting on during the upcoming session on the Honolulu Rail Transportation Project.

It basically calls for:

  • 3 Year General Excise (GE) surcharge extension on Oahu
  • 1% Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) Statewide (Increase hotel tax on all islands for everyone)
  • $103 million TAT to the Counties to be made permanent.

I should re-poll those that refused to answered my survey because they said they haven’t seen the bill, and ask them if they are now voting YES or NO on increasing the TAT Statewide… but I simply don’t have the time!

Governor’s Statement on UH Board of Regents Resolution on Stewardship of Mauna Kea:

I am pleased that the University of Hawai‘i has affirmed its intention to take action to strengthen the collaborative stewardship of Mauna Kea and its resources. I look forward to working with the university and its partners to make meaningful changes that further contribute to the co-existence of culture and science on this special mountain. —Governor David Y. Ige

Representative Mark Nakashima’s Response to Questions on Special Session on Honolulu Rapid Transit System

Representative Mark Nakashima

Dear Mr. Tucker:
Thank you for your recent email expressing your interest in the up-coming special session on the Issue of Honolulu’s rail system.  Please be assured that I share your concern.  As you know, the decision by the Hawaii Legislature was made before I joined the body, and I believe that questions regarding the state’s commitment to the program as well as other issues regarding the design have already been made.

The House of Representatives voted on the last day of the 2017 Regular Session on an amendment agreed to by with our Senate colleagues on an amendment that would have increased the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) by 1% for eleven years, extended the 0.5% General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge on Oahu for an additional year until 2028, restored $10 million to the county’s portion of the TAT allocation, and create a special fund for education.  Unfortunately, this agreement was not agreed to by the Senate as a whole and the bill died for lack of agreement.

One of the major rationales supported by the City and County of Honolulu for using the GET was the fact that approximately 30% of this cost was borne by visitors who paid the GET during their stay in the islands.  The TAT or hotel room tax is paid only by hotel guests while staying in a hotel room, and as such, the vast majority of this revenue would be paid by visitors with the exception of the local residents travelling inter-island and staying in a hotel.

Much has been said bout not wanting to pay for a project on another island, however I think many people miss the point that the City and County of Honolulu pays the vast majority of GET which then subsidizes the state hospitals and neighborhood schools – a system which work on a group of island where the vast differences in real property tax incomes would otherwise cause great inequities from island to island.

I regret that I will not participate in speculation on the final form of the bill to be considered the legislature until one has been written, as percentages and duration becomes meaningless until I am able to see the justification and rationale for these positions.

Finally, I will reiterate that only people who stay in hotel rooms pay the TAT.  Most residents will never pay this tax.  Everyone in Hawaii pays the GET.

Aloha and Best Wishes.

Sincerely,
Mark Nakashima
District 1


Aloha Rep. Nakashima,
Mahalo for representing the Big Island in legislative issues. I have some questions for you folks and hope you will respond to me by Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
Questions:
1. Will you vote YES or NO on a 1% STATEWIDE increase to the Transient Accommodations Tax (9.25% to 10.25%) to help fund the Honolulu Rapid Transit System in the upcoming legislative special session?
If your answer is YES, please explain why? If your answer is NO, please explain why?
2. Would you support a 6 year extension of the Honolulu General Excise Tax Surcharge of 0.5% from 2027 to 2034 if this will help fully fund the Honolulu Rapid Transit System without raising the Transient Accommodations Tax STATEWIDE?
YES or NO
3. Would you support an increase of the Honolulu General Excise Tax Surcharge of 0.5% to 0.62% and a 3 year extension of the Honolulu General Excise Tax Surcharge from 2028 to 2030 if this will fully fund the Honolulu Rapid Transit System without raising the Transient Accommodations Tax STATEWIDE?
YES or NO
Thank you for your participation in this quick and important decision that will affect all of us on this island.

2017 Queen Lili’uokalani Festival Set for Saturday, September 9

The He Hali’a Aloha no Lili’uokalani Festival, Queen’s Birthday Celebration, will take place on Saturday, September 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lili’uokalani Gardens Park in Hilo.

This year’s Festival to honor Hawai’i’s last reigning monarch is being held in conjunction with the Centennial Celebration of Lili’uokalani Gardens, and is being coordinated and sponsored in part by the Friends of Lili’uokalani Gardens.

The day-long festival includes music, hula, arts, crafts, food, demonstrations, children’s games and cultural activities.

Entertainment will include Darlene Ahuna, Taishoji Taiko, Komakakino with Halau Ha’akea a Kala, the Waiākea Ukulele Band, Tahitian by Merahi Productions, with the finale featuring Mark Yamanaka, recipient of multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

Hula is the major focus of the Festival and each year, festivities are kicked off with a mass hula featuring more than 250 hula dancers throughout the Park performing a traditional mele.

Dancers from throughout the State will dance together, symbolizing the Queen’s vision of sharing Hawai’ian culture with the rest of the world.  During this performance, more than 50,000 orchid blossoms will rain from the skies above the park.

Activities include Japanese Tea Ceremony, a Jumping Castle and Water slide, Coconut Weaving, Hawai’ian Printing & Stamp Pads, Hawai’ian Herbs, Hawai’ian crafts, and children’s coloring activities designed to provide historical information about the garden.

Community and educational organizations will be on hand to offer information on available services for families on Hawai‘i Island.

A bountiful variety of local foods will be available for purchase.

Admission to the Festival is free of charge.  Additional public parking is available at the Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium and Hawai’i County Mass Transit will be providing free shuttle service from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The County of Hawai’i is proud to partner with the Queen Lili’uokalani Trust, Pacific Radio Group, Hilo Fire Extinguishers, Blue Hawai’ian Helicopters, Grand Naniloa Hotel, KWXX, Honolulu Skylark Productions CJ Promotions, the Hawai’i Tropical Flowers Council and the Friends of Lili’uokalani Gardens to present this cultural experience to residents and visitors.

For more information, please call the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Culture and Education Section at 961-8706.

PISCES and Hawaii CC Launch Credit-Based Internship Program

The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) — a state-funded aerospace agency — in partnership with Hawaii Community College has launched a new credit-based internship program to offer college students high-tech learning opportunities while earning classroom credit.
The collaborative program will provide hands-on experience in computer programming and robotics work to develop Hawaii’s skilled labor workforce as jobs increasingly shift toward high-tech industry positions.

“I am very happy to be working closely with Hawaii Community College to provide students the opportunity to practice and improve the skills they learn in the classroom,” said PISCES Program Manager Rodrigo Romo. “At PISCES we are committed to providing Hawaii’s youth with as many tools and opportunities as possible to meet the demands of the growing high tech industry in the Islands.”

“Hawaii Community College believes that preparing our students for the jobs of the 21st century goes beyond our classrooms,” said Hawaii CC Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas. “Along with industry partners like PISCES, we can provide academic rigor in internship-based courses and programs.”

Two Hawaii CC students will participate in the new program during the fall 2017 semester, earning hour-for-hour classroom credit towards their degrees. Andrew Hasegawa and Jack Andersen, both Electronics Technology majors, will design and develop an autonomous navigation system for the PISCES planetary rover, “Helelani,” enabling the 700-pound robot to drive itself. The students will also develop a delivery system for an unmanned aerial vehicle to mitigate little fire ant populations in tree canopies — a PISCES project in partnership with the Hawaii Ant Lab. Both students are already familiar with the Helelani rover’s configuration since developing the robot’s software and hardware systems during PISCES’ 10-week internship program this summer.

“Hawaii Community College is very proud of our two summer intern students, Andrew Hasegawa and Jack Anderson, who will also participate this fall in the credit-based internship program at PISCES,” said Hawaii CC Electronics Technology Instructor Bernard “Chip” Michels. “Their work this past summer is a good representation of the new Electronics Technology curriculum the students were exposed to. I believe this new, revitalized Electronics Technology program that is focused on telecommunications and process and control industries will yield other fine examples of student work in the future. We hope to have more opportunities for our interns at PISCES and other interested organizations.”

PISCES and Hawaii CC intend to make the credit-based internship an ongoing program to provide unique learning opportunities for Hawaii college students outside of the classroom.

“Although classroom learning is invaluable for foundational knowledge, it can at times be lacking in more realistic problem-solving scenarios,” said Hawaii CC student Andrew Hasegawa. “This internship provides me with hands-on situations that I’m sure will serve me well in my overall education and future employment opportunities.”

Andersen and Hasegawa demonstrated the effectiveness of their summer internship experience during a final presentation in Hilo on Aug. 18 to an audience of lawmakers, educators, industry representatives and other members of the community.

“I am amazed with students’ testimony about their place-based learning experiences and their enthusiasm in applying their skills to the real world,” said Solemsaas.

Portions of Thurston Lava Tube and Trail Will Close Temporarily

Portions of Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku) and its rainforest loop trail will be closed starting Sept. 5 for approximately two weeks while park maintenance workers replace the electrical conduit and lighting system.

The bridge entrance to Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) is one of the most popular, and most photographed, destinations in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo Janice Wei

During the repairs, visitors will be able to explore the open section of the lava tube, which is one of the most popular destinations in the park. Visitors are advised to bring their own light source (cell phone lights are adequate). The nearby restrooms will remain open.

The new energy-efficient lighting system will simultaneously increase visitor safety by illuminating the interior, and protect the cultural integrity of the ‘ana (cave) by inhibiting the growth of non-native plant species.

The back portion of Nāhuku will be closed first, including the stairs leading out of the lava tube and the north section of rainforest trail. Visitors will be able to access the front section of the lava tube via the bridge entrance, and return the same way. Once work is complete in the back portion, work on the front section will start and visitors can access the rear portion of Nāhuku via the north trail and stairs.

The public will be notified of any updates. The park regrets any inconvenience to the public.

Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku) and its lush rainforest trail are popular features in the park, located near the summit of Kīlauea volcano off Crater Rim Drive. The lava tube was formed by a vigorous stream of magma that erupted from Kīlauea and crusted over about 550 years ago. When the magma source was exhausted, a long, hollow tunnel was left behind. The native rainforest surrounding Nāhuku is managed by the park as a Special Ecological Area, and is home to endemic plant, bird and insect species. Visitation is heaviest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and parking is limited to 30 minutes.