Discussion of Issues Relating to Special Session on Rail Funding, By Chairman of Maui’s County Council

The Chairman for the Maui County Council, Mike White, sent me the following document entitled “Discussion of Issues Relating to Special Session on Rail Funding:”


Mike White, Chairman of Maui County Council

Both the Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC) and the Hawaii Council of Mayors (HCOM) stand in support of the position to fund rail by extending the .5% GET surcharge.

  • The Proposal extends the GET surcharge for just three years to 2030.
  • The $1.3 billion raised by the TAT increase would be unnecessary if the GET was extended through 2033. The 3 additional years of surcharge would generate the same $1.3 Billion.
  • If the use of TAT fails the stress test of the Federal Transit Authority and is disqualified as a source to fund rail, will the TAT increase be reversed?

The promise to make permanent the $103 million to the Counties is questionable.

  • The Legislature’s history on keeping promises is weak. We all know that any action taken by today’s body can be reversed in any future session.
  • There was a promise that the 2% increase in TAT after the recession in 2008 would sunset after 5 years. It is not likely it will ever sunset.
  • The $103 million to the Counties still falls short in terms of the Counties being awarded their fair share.

There was hope that the recommendations of State-County Working Group would be taken seriously

  • The Counties’ share of the TAT would have been $184 million this past year if the legislature accepted the findings of the working group they established.
  • The working Group found that Counties provided 56% of visitor related expenditures from State or County general funds
  • Counties were willing to accept the lower 45% share compromise reached in the working group.
  • The Legislature has ignored the Working Group findings, maintained the cap and taken all of the increased revenue.

The State has already grown their share of the TATsignificantly.

  • TheState has increased its share of TAT from $17.1 million to $291.1 million since 2007
  • Since then the Counties share has dropped to $93 million, a loss of $7.8 million
  • The cost of Police, Fire and Parks departments in the four counties has increased by $264 million while Counties share has been reduced.
  • Without a rate increase State share will likely increase to $326 million in FY2018
  • With a 1% rate increase, State share will likely increase by another $58 million to $384 million.

Distribution to Local governments of taxes generated from Lodging Revenues

  • Nationwide, taxes on lodging have been established to cover the cost of services and infrastructure needed to support the visitors.
  • Nationwide, 67% of ALL taxes (GET & TAT) on Lodging revenue go to the local government.
  • In Hawaii, only 14% of GET & TAT generated is given to local Governments
  • The Hawaii TAT accounts for about 68% of the taxes on lodging. If we were to get the Average Local government share we would get almost all of the current TAT revenue.

Hawaii is not the only small state with large expenditures on Education and other government functions, but tax distribution is very different.

  • With similar populations to Hawaii, state expenditures on education in West Virginia and Idaho are close to Hawaii’s.
  • When Hawaii spent $1.6 billion or 23% of its General Fund (GF) on education, Idaho spent $1.6 billion (51% of GF)and West Virginia spent $1.9 billion (43% of GF) on education.
  • West Virginia has a 6% state sales tax and a 6% room tax (TAT)on lodging revenue. All proceeds from the 6% room tax go to the local government.
  • Idaho also has a 6% state sales tax and authorizes local government to impose “local option” taxes on lodging accommodations, drinks by-the-glass, retail sales, etc. The total taxes in resort areas appear to be about 12%. The state receives the 6% sales tax and the local government receives the rest.
  • This type of comparison deserves a closer look if we hope to bring a stronger sense of “partnership” to the relationship between our state and counties.

Our Legislators push the counties to increase property taxes instead of asking for more TAT.

  • Hawaii has lower property tax rates, but significantly higher home values.
  • Hawaii’s median home value is 5 times higher than West Virginia and three time higher than Idaho.
  • Even with lower rates, the average tax on the median home value is $1,430 in Hawaii vs $1,250 in Idaho and $660 in West Virginia.
  • Hawaii property taxes represent 2.1% of median household income. This compares to 2.6% in Idaho and 1.5% in West Virginia.

Neighbor Islands are again being offered the opportunity to pass the same .5% GET Surcharge for our transportation needs.

  • The concern that the neighbor islands have had for years is that once we pass the GET surcharge, the Legislature will take away ALL of our TAT revenue.
  • Some of us have been told directly over the years that this is their intension.
  • The Neighbor Islands favor keeping a visitor-generated TAT to pay for visitor–related services. It makes no sense to shift the cost of visitor services to our resident population through either GET or property taxes when the visitors have already paid their fair share.
  • The GET generated by the .5% surcharge would be just slightly higher than the amount of TAT we are currently getting.

Impact of TAT on Neighbor Islands

  • Oahu occupancy rates are 10 points ahead of Maui, 13 ahead of Kauai and nearly 20 points ahead of Big Island
  • From CY 2006 to CY 2016, Oahu GET base grew by 15% while Neighbor Islands remain below 2006 levels
  • One percent increase in TAT would remove over $30 million from our Neighbor Island communities and economies.

State should work on ensuring all TAT taxing options and compliance issues are addressed before simply increasing the rate

  • The State is not receiving a significant portion of the TAT revenue even though the visitors are paying the TAT or an equivalent.Amend TAT statute to ensure collection of taxes from accommodation remarketers instead of just operators.  Maui County has drafted a bill to correct the problem, and it will likely be part of the HSAC package. $60-80 million in added revenue.
  • Increase the basis of the calculation of TOT on Timeshares from 50% of maintenance fee to a higher percentage.
  • Work with Counties to ensure vacation rentals are operating legally and paying both State and county taxes. Maui County will be contracting with internet service that will identify location and ownership of rentals being advertised on the internet.
  • Instead of TAT, evaluate a Rhode Island-type 1% tax on food and beverages consumed at restaurants, bars and hotels. Restaurant Association estimates the Hawaii base at $4.6 billion. $46 million in added tax revenue

Tax Review Commission recommendations would increase revenues by over $300 million per year

  • Not all the recommendations are popular
  • Sugary beverage tax of $.02 per ounce – $50 million
  • Increase collection of taxes on e-commerce/online retail sales – $30-40 million

Mike White,
Maui County Council Chairman

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