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Puna Community Town Hall Meetings Hosted By Senator Ruderman

Senator Russell Ruderman will be hosting Puna Community Town Hall Meetings on Tuesday, October 24th in Pahoa and Wednesday, October 25th in Volcano:
I will be presenting some of my proposed legislation for the 2018 Legislative Session, and I invite you join me and take advantage of this opportunity for me to hear from you and give your input on these proposed measures, as well as hear your ideas for additional legislation to be introduced this next year.

My staff and I will also be discussing how you can be directly involved in the legislative process – by submitting language for legislation, contacting legislators and submitting testimony, and how to track legislation as it is referred to various committees and moves through the legislature.
Light refreshments will be served.

Senator Russell E. Ruderman
Senatorial District 2 – Puna-Ka’u

Live Stream with Bernie Sanders at UH Hilo – Proposed Legislation to Make Tuition Free

Tomorrow, Tuesday October 10th, the University of Hawaii Hilo registered group Global Hope, will be showing a nation-wide streaming of Bernie Sanders proposed legislation to make public colleges and universities tuition free.

The presentation will be at 7:00pm at University of Hawaii Hilo in UCB 100.

Many in Hawaii support Bernie Sanders and will be interested in this proposal.

Democratic Party of Hawai‘i Statement on the Passing of Former DPH Executive Director Flo Kong Kee

It is with profound sorrow that the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i (DPH) learned today of the passing of former DPH Executive Director, officer, and leader Flo Kong Kee.

Ms. Kong Kee was a longtime Party official, having served at different times over the last three decades as State Party Executive Director, State Treasurer, District Chair, Precinct President, delegate to numerous state and national conventions, and most recently as Delegate Page for the DPH during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“Flo was a person of tremendous generosity, class, and kindness,” said Tim Vandeveer, DPH Party Chairperson. “She exemplified grace under pressure and always put our party first,” Vandeveer stated, adding “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this difficult time.”

Information regarding memorial services will be shared when made available.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Fights to Prevent the FCC From Dismantling Broadband Internet Standards

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) signed a bicameral letter to urge Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai not to relax Internet broadband standards for millions of Americans across the country which would most adversely affect rural, tribal, and low-income communities. The FCC announced in a Notice of Inquiry that it would consider lowering the standards of broadband Internet access speeds from 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload to 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, while also classifying a mobile Internet connection as a suitable replacement for home broadband.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said:

“It is indisputable that high-speed broadband Internet access is essential to succeed in today’s economy, and that rural, tribal and low-income communities already face significant obstacles to accessing 21st century jobs, training programs, and educational opportunities.  According to the FCC’s own 2016 report, 39 percent of rural Americans and 41 percent of tribal communities lack access to acceptable internet speeds, creating significant obstacles that often inhibit them from doing things like promoting their business, communicating with their families, and accessing education tools.  I’ve heard this firsthand from constituents in my district who live in very rural communities.  Often, the only access to the Internet for kids in school was through a parent’s wireless hotspot signal.

“The FCC should be looking at how to expand and strengthen the infrastructure and high-speed Internet in America’s rural, tribal and low-income communities.  By opting instead to lower the bar and redefine what constitutes an acceptable Internet connection, the FCC continues on its current trend towards favoring corporate interests over American consumers.  Should the FCC’s proposals move forward, they will create more obstacles for working Americans by putting them behind the technology curve.

“I firmly support the expansion of high-speed Internet access to rural and tribal areas, which is why I cosponsored H. Con. Res. 63, which calls for the availability of high-speed Internet for all Americans.”

Notices to Women Regarding Access to Family Planning Services Must Be Allowed, State Argues

Yesterday the Department of the Attorney General filed a memorandum opposing an attempt by certain religiously-affiliated organizations to prevent a new law concerning women’s access to information regarding reproductive health services from being enforced. The law, Senate Bill 501 (2017), was passed by the Hawaii state legislature on May 4, 2017, and signed into law as Act 200 on July 12, 2017. It requires limited service pregnancy centers to notify women in writing regarding the availability of state-funded reproductive health services.

The Department’s memo argues that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over several Western states including Hawaii, already upheld a similar law passed by California in 2015.
The opposition memo states in part:

The Legislature has found that “[m]any women in Hawaii … remain unaware of the public programs available to provide them with contraception, health education and counseling, family planning, prenatal care, pregnancy-related, and birth-related services.” To address this concern, [Act 200] was enacted into law. It requires “limited service pregnancy centers,” as defined in the Act, to disseminate a written notice to clients or patients informing them that Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services.

A similar filing was made in a related case yesterday as well.

Hawaii Senate Adjourns Special Session

Members of the Hawai‘i State Senate adjourned Special Session today after the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 4 to provide funding for the completion of the City and County of Honolulu’s rail transit project and bills to approve collective bargaining costs.

During this Special Legislative Session, as part of its constitutionally mandated duties, the Senate considered for advise and consent and approved a total of 50 gubernatorial appointments to 34 boards and commissions and one deputy director position.

Among those confirmed this week:

  • James Griffin, to the Public Utilities Commission
  • Douglas Shinsato to the U.H. Board of Regents
  • Robert Masuda as Deputy to the Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • Marcus Oshiro as the Chairperson and Representative of the Public of the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board

A complete list of actions taken during the Special Legislative Session can viewed at capitol.hawaii.gov.

Senate Roll Call – Who Voted for What When It Came Down to the Rail

Today at the Hawaii State Capitol Building in Honolulu, the Senate voted 16-9 in favor of moving Senate Bill 4 over to the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 4 Report Title:  County Surcharge on State Tax; Extension; Transient Accommodations Tax; Appropriations:

Authorizes a county that has adopted a surcharge on state tax to extend the surcharge to 12/31/2030. Authorizes a county to adopt a surcharge on state tax before 3/31/2018, under certain conditions. Decreases from 10% to 1% the surcharge gross proceeds retained by the State. Allows the director of finance to pay revenues derived from the county surcharge under certain conditions. Clarifies uses of surcharge revenues. Establishes a mass transit… (See bill for full description.)

Many folks were wondering who voted yes and no on moving this bill forward and I was able to obtain the following roll call sheet from today’s hearing and for what it’s worth… all four Big Island Senators voted against moving this bill forward:

Mayor Harry Kim Opposed to Permanent Cap on Counties’ Transient Accommodation Tax


Testimony by Harry Kim, Mayor, County of Hawai’i before Senate Ways & Means Re: SB 4:

The County of Hawai’i opposes the permanent cap on the counties’ share of the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT). This cap is unnecessary to achieve all other aspects of the bill to finance Honolulu’s rail. The bill proposes to finance rail by extending the General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge period to 12/31/2030, increasing the share of the surcharge that goes to rail by decreasing the administrative charge retained by the State, and increasing the TAT rate by 1% and dedicating all of that increase to rail. There is no reason related to rail financing to cap the share of the TAT to the counties.

A cap on the counties’ TAT share is contrary to the Legislature’s own working group report and the original intent of the TAT tax summarized as follows:

  • Working Group Recommendation. The working group recommended the Tourism Special Fund receive $82 million in FY 2016 and increase in subsequent years in line with the Consumer Price Index for Honolulu, $31 million constant for the Convention Center-Turtle Bay-Special Land Develop Fund, and the remainder split between the State and counties at 55% for the State and 45% for the counties. Based on total TAT revenues in 2016 of $444 million, the $103,000,000 cap represents 31% of the remainder of the TAT after allocations to the Tourism Special Fund ($82 million) and the Convention Center-Turtle Bay-Special Land Development Fund ($33 million). As a result of the cap, the counties’ share will only get worse as tourism grows.
  • Nexus to Tourism Services. The incidence of the TAT is primarily on visitors, so the TAT tax revenues should fund public services which benefit visitors. The UH Economic Research Organization (UHERO) estimated that the counties pay for 53% of the services for which visitors directly benefit (UHERO Working Paper No. 2016-4). These services include police and fire protection, rescue, parks, beaches, water, roads, and sewer systems.
  • Act 185 (1990). Recognizing that “many of the burdens imposed by tourism falls on the counties,” the legislature created the TAT as a “more equitable method of sharing state revenues with the counties” (Conference Committee Report 207 on HB No. 1148). The legislature deemed at that time that the fair allocation was 95% of the total TAT revenues to the counties.

The State has multiple sources of revenues. The counties only have property tax, motor vehicle weight tax, and public utility franchise tax. Our out-of-control homeless problems are a symptom of the soaring cost to rent or own a home in Hawai’i. And you want to offer us the power to increase the GET tax, the most regressive form of taxation that impacts the lower income the greatest. We already had to increase our property tax to make ends meet. With the collective bargaining decisions dominated by the State, we again will face possible increases. We ask only for our fair share as recommended by the Working Group, to maintain quality services that uphold the tourism industry and affordability for our people.

Hawaii House of Representatives Adopt Resolution Formalizing New Committee Assignments

The Hawaii House of Representatives today adopted a resolution formalizing new committee assignments.

The new committee assignments are part of a broader House reorganization and administrative housekeeping that naturally follows from the change in Speaker at the end of the 2017 regular session.

There were more than 50 of changes made to committee assignments based on:

  • Member requests;
  • Changes to caucus;
  • GOP caucus asking for changes; and
  • Committees reorganized.

Committee assignments are as follows:

Agriculture

Chair Richard P. Creagan
Vice Chair Lynn DeCoite

Cedric Asuega Gates
Kaniela Ing
Matthew S. LoPresti
Calvin K.Y. Say
Gregg Takayama
Cynthia Thielen

Consumer Protection & Commerce

Chair Roy M. Takumi
Vice Chair Linda Ichiyama

Henry J.C. Aquino
Ken Ito
Aaron Ling Johanson
John M. Mizuno
Calvin K.Y. Say
Chris Todd
James Kunane Tokioka
Ryan I. Yamane
Bob McDermott

Economic Development & Business

Chair Mark M. Nakashima
Vice Chair Jarrett Keohokalole

Sharon E. Har
Daniel Holt
Linda Ichiyama
Aaron Ling Johanson
Kyle T. Yamashita
Lauren Kealohilani Matsumoto

Education

Chair Justin H. Woodson
Vice Chair Sharon E. Har

Richard P. Creagan
Mark J. Hashem
Kaniela Ing
Sam Satoru Kong
Angus L.K. McKelvey
Takashi Ohno
Rickard H.K. Onishi
Sean Quinlan
Lauren Kealohilani Matsumoto

Energy & Environmental Protection

Chair Chris Lee
Vice Chair Nicole E. Lowen

Ty J.K. Cullen
Sam Satoru Kong
Angus L.K. McKelvey
Ryan I Yamane
Bob McDermott

Finance

Chair Sylvia Luke
Vice Chair Ty J.K. Cullen

Romy M. Cachola
Lynn DeCoite
Beth Fukumoto
Cedric Asuega Gates
Daniel Holt
Jarrett Keohokalole
Bertrand Kobayashi
Matthew S. LoPresti
Nicole E. Lowen
Nadine K. Nakamura
Kyle T. Yamashita
Andria P.L. Tupola
Gene Ward

Health & Human Services

Chair John M. Mizuno
Vice Chair Bertrand Kobayashi

Della Au Belatti
Marcus R. Oshiro
Chris Todd
Andria P.L. Tupola

Higher Education

Chair Angus L.K. McKelvey
Vice Chair Mark J. Hashem

Richard P. Creagan
Sharon E. Har
Kaniela Ing
Sam Satoru Kong
Takashi Ohno
Richard H.K. Onishi
Sean Quinlan
Justin H. Woodson
Lauren Kealohilani Matsumoto

Housing

Chair Tom Brower
Vice Chair Nadine K. Nakamura

Henry J.C. Aquino
Mark J. Hashem
Sean Quinlan
Joy A. San Buenaventura
Bob McDermott

Intrastate Commerce

Chair Takashi Ohno
Vice Chair Isaac W. Choy

Romy M. Cachola
Beth Fukumoto
Ken Ito
Richard H.K. Onishi
James Kunane Tokioka
Justin H. Woodson
Gene Ward

Judiciary

Chair Scott Y. Nishimoto
Vice Chair Joy A. San Buenaventura

Tom Brower
Chris Lee
Dee Morikawa
Mark M. Nakashima
Marcus R. Oshiro
Gregg Takayama
Bob McDermott
Cynthia Thielen

Labor & Public Employment

Chair Aaron Ling Johanson
Vice Chair Daniel Holt

Sharon E. Har
Linda Ichiyama
Jarrett Keohokalole
Mark M. Nakashima
Kyle Yamashita
Lauren Kealohilani Matsumoto

Legislative Management

Chair Bertrand Kobayashi
Vice Chair Della Au Belatti

Isaac W. Choy
Cindy Evans
Dee Morikawa
Andria P. L. Tupola

Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs

Chair Kaniela Ing
Vice Chair Cedric Asuega Gates

Richard P. Creagan
Lynn DeCoite
Matthew S. LoPresti
Calvin K.Y. Say
Gregg Takayama
Cynthia Thielen

Public Safety

Chair Gregg Takayama
Matthew S. LoPresti

Richard P. Creagan
Lynn DeCoite
Cedric Asuega Gates
Kaniela Ing
Calvin K.Y. Say
Cynthia Thielen

Tourism

Chair Richard H.K. Onishi
Vice Chair Beth Fukumoto

Romy M. Cachola
Isaac W. Choy
Ken Ito
Takashi Ohno
Justin H. Woodson
Gene Ward

Transportation

Chair Henry J.C. Aquino
Vice Chair Sean Quinlan

Tom Brower
Mark J. Hashem
Nadine K. Nakamura
Joy A. San Buenaventura
Bob McDermott

Veterans, Military & International Affairs & Culture and the Arts

Chair Ken Ito
Vice Chair James Kunane Tokioka

Romy Cachola
Isaac W. Choy
Beth Fukumoto
Takashi Ohno
Richard H.K. Onishi
Justin H. Woodson
Gene Ward

Water & Land

Chair Ryan I. Yamane
Vice Chair Sam Satoru Kong

Ty J.K. Cullen
Chris Lee
Nicole E. Lowen
Angus L.K. McKelvey
Cynthia Thielen

Big Island Workshops on the Legislature – Make Your Voice Heard

You can add your voice at the State Capitol! Tell legislators what you want them to focus on when Regular Session begins in January and be ready to offer your testimony when things get rolling. To help, the Legislature’s Public Access Room (PAR) is offering “Your Voice,” a free 1- hour workshop at numerous locations on the Big Island.

Topics include understanding the legislative process, deadlines, and power dynamics, as well as tips on effective lobbying, testifying, and communicating with Senators and Representatives. “How-To” guides, informational handouts, and other resources will be available.

“Your Voice” – Free One-hour Workshops:

  • Mon Sept 11 6:00 p.m. Kailua-Kona – West Hawai’i Civic Center Community Hale; 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway
  • Tue Sept 12 6:00 p.m. Waimea- Thelma Parker Memorial Library; 67-1209 Mamalahoa Highway
  • Wed Sept 13 5:30 p.m. Hilo Public Library; 300 Waianuenue Ave.
  • Thu Sept 14 5:30 p.m. Pahoa Community Center; Kauhale Street

For additional information, or to ask about additional workshops during this visit, contact PAR ─ 808/587-0478 or par@capitol.hawaii.gov.

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

Information for 2017 Hawaii Legislature Special Session – How to Submit Testimony

The Legislature’s webmasters have set up a webpage for information on the 2017 Special Session called for Monday, August 28th. It can be found here: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/splsession.aspx?year=2017a.

This is where you’ll find links to the rail transit funding bill, “SB1 Relating to Transportation Financing”, and the notice for Monday’s 11:30 a.m. 3:00 p.m. WAM hearing (link to hearing notice). The hearing notice lists special email addresses for submitting your testimony.

Note: The hearing will be broadcast on Olelo on channel 49, will go out live to neighbor island PEG access TV channels, and can be viewed live online on the Senate webcasts page (http://olelo.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=13).

It appears that a number of nominations subject to Senate confirmation will also be considered during the Special Session, as numerous Governor’s Messages appear on the Special Session page.

Any subsequent hearing notices will also appear on the 2017 Special Session webpage.

Please don’t hesitate to contact the Public Access Room (PAR) with any questions.

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!

Senator Kahele to Kick-Off Statewide Higher Education Tour at UH Hilo Next Wednesday

State Senator Kaiali‘i Kahele, Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, is announcing a statewide higher education tour for its committee members. The tour will also include discussions with students, faculty, staff and administrators, that will focus on “transforming the University of Hawai‘i System for the next decade.” Arrangements are being made to visit all 10 University of Hawai‘i System campuses and affiliated education centers this fall as follows:

  • University of Hawai‘i at Hilo 
  • University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa 
  • University of Hawai‘i at West Oahu 
  • University of Hawai‘i Maui College 
  • Hawai‘i Community College (Hilo) 
  • Honolulu Community College 
  • Kapi‘olani Community College 
  • Leeward Community College 
  • Windward Community College 
  • Kaua‘i Community College 
  • Hawai‘i Community College – Pālamanui (Kona) 
  • North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center (Honoka‘a) 
  • Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (Kaneohe)

To kick off the statewide tour, Senator Kahele is hosting an East Hawai‘i Higher Education Town Hall on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at UH Hilo in UCB100. Topics of discussion will include leadership, enrollment, tuition, governance, student life, facilities, athletics, community engagement and new programs. University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College students, faculty, staff, administrators and the community are encouraged to attend.

For questions regarding the higher education statewide tour or the town hall meeting, please contact the office of Sen. Kahele at 808-586-6760 or senkkahele@capitol.hawaii.gov.

Representative Joy San Buenaventura’s Response to Questions on Special Session on Honolulu Rapid Transit System

Representative Joy San Buenaventura

As other legislators have noted, this questionnaire is premature in that we have not been told what we will be voting on in the special session. However, it is clear that there are 3 choices (and variations of these 3 choices) facing the legislature regarding rail funding: 1. No additional taxes and have rail be built until current funding runs out. HART claims that this is not an option because the federal government will want its $1.55 billion back. 2. Extend GE taxes forever (original request) or for 10 years until 2037. This is senate’s last position. 3. Increase TAT by 1% for 10 years and GE .5% for only 1 more year and gave back $10 million in TAT to the various counties with honolulu’s entire TAT share paying only for rail. This is the House’s last position. This was originally proposed late in the 2017 session because Mayor Caldwell testified that most of GE taxes were paid for by tourists (without data supporting his assertion); and it was to ensure that tourists did indeed pay for rail like he testified.

The tourist industry has recently spun the third alternative as a neighbor island tax on rail despite the fact that those who travel & stay with friends or family will not pay TAT tax at all; and completely ignoring the fact that a GE tax increase is also a tax on neighbor islanders who buy on-line from stores like Macy’s, Best buy, Sears, Target & Walmart. For the months of April &May 2017, amazon voluntarily collected Hawaii GE taxes too at 4.5% (http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/34933913/sorry-hawaii-your-tax-free-shopping-on-amazon-is-about-to-end) and stopped after it appeared that the US Supreme Court was not going to rule on internet sales but now there are 9 members of the US Supreme Court. See: one-step-closer-to-internet sales tax. Don’t let the tourist industry fool you, a GE tax increase affects everybody, especially neighbor islanders who depend on on-line purchases, and not just Oahu.

The various counties also do not like the TAT increase option because they want the option to collect the .5% GE for its own transportation needs.

To answer your 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?

It depends on whether the proposed bill gave back to the counties $10 million/year like the latest house position and decreased the GE increase from 10 years down to 1. As I stated earlier, a 10-year GE tax increase affects more neighbor island residents than a TAT increase especially where it is likely that the new 9-member US Supreme Court will rule to allow taxation of all on-line sales. I voted Yes on the house position in 2017.

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 – but this is unrealistic because the State Constitution requires that Hawaii County and all the other counties be given an option to increase their GE tax once we give Honolulu the extensionso it won’t be a Honolulu-only GE tax AND no one has ever testified that 6 years was sufficient. HART and all entities have testified that it is their request that the GE .5% increase extensions be forever because they don’t think it ever will be financially sustainable with just fares alone. HART’s track record of asking for a 10 year extension in 2015 and now another extension 2 years later has shown that they will keep coming back. In 2015, I voted NO on any GE tax increase specifically because I did not want to give Hawaii County an opportunity to raise GE at a time when we were just recovering from Iselle and the lava flow so if it was a statewide increase in GE taxes, like that in 2015, I would likely vote NO again because a GE tax is regressive.

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?

Probably Yes but no one has given us this option and see my objections to any GE tax increase in my prior answers

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Condemns Justice Department’s Politically Motivated Search Warrant

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) today warned that, in violation of First Amendment privacy protections afforded under the Constitution, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested a search warrant for IP addresses and personal information stored on the server of a private company who helped organize protests during President Trump’s inauguration. The search warrant, filed by the federal government in the D.C. Superior Court, is trying to force DreamHost to provide the DOJ with the user information for anyone who visited their site in an effort to identify anyone involved in Inauguration Day protests.

Tulsi and my son when he won an art competition at the state capitol.

“The Justice Department’s politically motivated probe to collect personal information on its own citizens exercising their legal right to express dissenting political views is nothing short of a constitutional violation and is wholly un-American. It reeks of actions that Presidents Nixon and Johnson took against Americans protesting the war in Vietnam. Our country was founded on the rule of law which protects our right to free speech and prohibits the government from violating our personal privacy with baseless warrants. These fundamental rights and protections separate our democracy from dictators around the world who seek to silence and intimidate their political opponents to maintain power. The Justice Department’s witch hunt serves as a reminder that we must take a stand to defend our constitutional rights and ensure our government is not allowed to violate our constitutional rights and civil liberties,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has long advocated for reforms that address our government’s responsibility to protect civil liberties. She is a founding member of the Fourth Amendment Caucus and has been a champion for strengthening privacy and civil liberties protections in the digital age. She has introduced legislation to strengthen the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) and cosponsored legislation like the Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act and Email Privacy Act to modernize electronic privacy laws.

Hawaii Rep. Beth Fukumoto Responds to Hate Letter, White Nationalism and Issues a Warning to the GOP

After receiving a letter from a self-proclaimed Trump supporter attacking her Japanese ancestry and her support for “illegals, black thugs, Muslims and bombs, and gays,” Rep. Beth Fukumoto released the following statement. Fukumoto, who left the Republican Party earlier this year after being removed from leadership over her participation in the Hawaii Women’s March, has spoken extensively on her experiences of racism and race politics in the GOP.

Rep. Beth Fukumoto

“This letter isn’t the first to come across my desk, but it’s so painfully relevant to everything that has unfolded in America these last few days that I believed it needed to be addressed. This individual and their list of everything they hate was inspired by President Trump and his statements.

“I worked to fight racist rhetoric when I was a member of the Republican Party, and I left when I realized I couldn’t win that fight from within. The white nationalist undercurrent of the Presidential campaign stretched far beyond Donald Trump. His success is the result of white nationalism left unchecked within the GOP for years.

“Today, every elected official in the GOP needs to make a choice. Be vocal, public and specific in your opposition to prejudice everywhere – especially in the Oval Office. Or, be complicit and continue to work peacefully with a party that has gained electoral wins by building coalitions of mistrust and hate.”

Guest Commentary – Audit the Honolulu Rail Project

Dear Damon,

When the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii first kicked off our “Audit the Rail” campaign, we had a feeling the idea would catch on.

Over the summer, we’ve seen respected voices across the state join the chorus.

At the outset, we did some digging and uncovered the fact that several HART board members supported a forensic audit of the rail.

Following that, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published a story echoing our call to audit the rail explicitly for fraud, waste and abuse.

Then, Honolulu Councilmember Trevor Ozawa introduced a resolution to perform a special audit of the rail. Since then, at least four other Honolulu Council members have endorsed an audit.

And now, state legislators are floating the idea of auditing the rail, according to a presentation leaked to the press last week.

As influential voices across the state join the Grassroot Institute’s call to audit the rail, we intend to continue making a reasoned case for a full forensic audit.

If you have not yet signed our petition, please do so at AuditTheRail.com and share this e-mail with your friends.

Mahalo for helping this idea to catch on.

E Hana Kakou (Let’s work together!),

Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.
President/CEO Grassroots Institute of Hawaii

A Message From Senator Kahele

Photo courtesy “Hawaii State Senate.”

Aloha,
This Monday, August 7, 2017 is the start of the new school year and I wanted to take this moment to welcome back our students, teachers and administrators and wish all of you a fantastic school year.

As the school year begins, there will be many students walking to school and crossing our streets. As a reminder to our drivers, please be extra vigilant of our keiki on our roadways starting next week.

I’m especially excited about the implementation of the Farm to School program into our Hilo schools this year. Led by Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture and The Kohala Center, the program emphasizes the use of more locally grown food within our public school cafeterias. The pilot phase took place last year at Kohala elementary, middle and high schools. This year, the program is expanding to Kalaniana‘ole Intermediate School, Ha‘aheo Elementary School and Keaukaha Elementary School.

Farm to School is focused on improving student health by reducing processed foods, sourcing local ingredients and serving nutritious meals cooked from scratch. The program will expand the relationship between Hawai‘i public schools and local agricultural communities. In the classroom, students will learn how their food choices as consumers impact their health, environment and community.

As Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, I will be conducting a series of statewide visits to all University of Hawai‘i System campuses to speak with students, faculty, staff and administration. These site visits will be an opportunity to answer questions and hear concerns so that we can make the necessary changes to strive for a world class University of Hawai’i System.

To kick this off, I will be holding a Higher Education Town Hall on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 from 5:00PM to 7:00PM. I would like to invite the UH-Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College faculty, staff, students and administration. The town hall will be held at UH-Hilo in UCB 100 at the University Classroom Building.

Again, my office and staff are always available to you should you need any assistance. I hope to have an opportunity for us to talk story. Be sure to swing by my next Saturday with your Senator event on August 12, 2017.

Me ka haʻahaʻa,
Kaialiʻi Kahele