Hawaii Representative Responds on Why She Voted Yes With Reservations During Special Legislative Session


Hawaii Island Representative Joy SanBuenventura posted the following response on her Facebook page as to why she voted Yes (with reservations) on the recent controversial rail bill:

Representative Joy SanBuenaventura

“Why I voted Yes with Reservations: For the reason I voted no in 2015 because I did not like the rail fiasco, I don’t trust Caldwell’s numbers & the amendment to exempt neighbor island from TAT surcharge (which I voted for and spoke up for) overwhelmingly failed. The 2015 rail bill passed which led to the rock & hard place we are in now: If this current bill failed by 9/15, we would be stuck with an $800 million bill to fed govt (That’s why Hanabusa and Schatz stepped in when they stayed away previously – they saw that the leg was willing to let rail fail by our lack of agreement when 2017 session ended & our unwillingness to schedule a special session- the special session was scheduled at the last possible minute prior to 9/15 fed deadline & only after Hanabusa & Schatz stepped in). We no longer have Dan Inouye nor President Obama and our fed legislators keep speaking out against trump- so fed relationships needed to be retained with the day-to-day non-appointees who actually administer the fed grant $. Hanabusa & Schatz were concerned that if rail died, ALL our fed grants are subject to re-review. Half our highways our funded by feds, including Hwy 130. Someone needs to keep nagging DoT so that Hwy 130 doesn’t lose its place in the STIP and I didn’t want to give DoT another excuse not to fund 4-lanes (they already allowed the $15 mil for the alternate access to lapse & they already blame me for the failure of the gas tax they wanted in 2016 session). DoT was in every rail hearing even if sometimes they don’t testify.

The TAT was always a state tax created in 1986 to help the tourist industry create a convention center and to advertise Hawaii as a destination. In 1991 various grants were given to the counties so that they can promote their own tourism on their island. The big island gets 18.6% of the county share (at least 4% more than we are entitled to because Harvey Tajiri who was once finance chair juiced it) – with this county vs. state debate, a tracking-down of where the money is generated is going to occur and I suspect the big island will lose this advantage because our visitor count shows only 14% of visitor arrivals vs. statewide. The huge pressure to vote “no” has already cost the Big Island to lose statewide power when Cindy Evans lost her majority leadership position – so this huge pressure to vote “no” when the “yes” votes were going to win only led the big island to a worse bargaining position when state monies are used for grants and capital improvements. Most neighbor island reps supported the amendment making this an Oahu-only TAT but we were overwhelmingly outvoted – so the “yes” votes were going to win regardless.

The current bill was a compromise between the 2 chambers & the hotel/tourist industry – It was originally 2-3% of TAT. It was meant to export the tax to tourists after Caldwell’s testimony that tourists paid for most of it and Hanneman stating that 90-99% of hotels are rented to out-of -state residents. The original neighbor island tax referred to in Civil Beat was a statewide GE surcharge which option was soundly rejected by all. TAT is deductible by residents but GE is mostly deductible based upon income. Moreover, I felt this bill was a move towards a more equitable tax away from the regressive GE which is a tax on everything and is paid by everyone including those who cannot afford a hotelroom. Everyone was already paying the Oahu GE surcharge without knowing it because the GE is a tax on wholesale items and even on the tax itself that’s why its 4.1666666 not just 4%.

As to lack of notice: Unless there is a constitutional amendment for a year-long legislative session, this lack of notice will always be a problem because we have 60 days to parse through hundreds of bills and every year we asked for funding for neighbor island residents to testify, we lose. The rail bill like all bills had the 48-hour notice and in this case because there was a special session, it got even more notice than the other bills; and frankly, I called a certain councilperson when this bill was going through the transportation committee in the original session as to the county position before it got to the yes or no stage – but got no response back (I suspect she did not want to violate the sunshine law by just polling members & the mayor on interim positions before getting back to me). Again I remain committed to lessen the burden on local B-n-B’s caused by this bill by introducing a bill next session and I invite the local b-n-b’s to give me a proposed draft of such a bill.”