Rental car surcharge bill changes to fund roadwork statewide

$4.50 per day fee was supposed to be used on Maui projects in Lahaina and Paia

A bill that would’ve raised rental car taxes at the Kahului Airport to pay for Maui bypass projects has morphed into a proposed statewide rental car tax to fund projects most likely on Oahu, frustrating the Maui lawmakers who originally introduced it.

“It started out as something that was desperately needed for Lahaina and Paia, and now it’s turned into a monster,” West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said Monday.

House Bill 2601 originally called for adding a $4.50 daily surcharge to rental car taxes at the Kahului Airport, with the money to go toward the Lahaina and Paia bypasses. The bill underwent changes in the Transportation Committee before passing through the Finance Committee in February. It passed on third reading in the House Friday and is headed for the Senate.

The bill now calls for creating a to-be-determined daily rental car fee, with the money going into the state highway fund to pay for “highway capital projects that addresses various capacity issues statewide.” McKelvey said the state Department of Transportation has made it clear that its priority projects are on Oahu.

“There’s no guarantee anymore that Maui County rental car money will stay in Maui County for these two critical projects,” McKelvey said.

McKelvey, however, ended up voting for the measure. He said he was sick and admitted he hadn’t read the changes closely until the vote was being taken, though he ultimately voted for the bill because he expected it to get “an icy reception” in the Senate.

“At this point, I’d rather have it die, and it looks like that’s what’s going to happen on the Senate side anyway,” he said.

Maui senators also introduced a companion bill — Senate Bill 3009 — though it never got a hearing in committee.

The reason Maui lawmakers drafted the measures in the first place was because the state had taken the Lahaina and Paia bypasses out of its long-range plans due to a lack of revenue, McKelvey said. So, Maui lawmakers came up with the idea to generate funding on Maui for Maui projects. While frustrated with how the bill turned out, McKelvey said “the ball’s still in play.”

“If people lobby, it’ll go back to the original version,” he said. “If it doesn’t move forward, we’ve got to use the summer to have the public really make it clear that it’s a priority that the state fund the bypasses.”

On Friday, the House passed 131 bills on third reading to be sent over to the Senate. The deadline for bills to cross over from the House to the Senate (and vice versa) is Thursday. A number of Maui County-related bills are awaiting a final reading, including bills related to the Front Street Apartments.

Senate Bill 2293 would kick-start negotiations between the state and the owner of the apartments to keep rent affordable. It needs one more reading to cross over to the House. Its companion, House Bill 2006, has seen no movement since being referred to the Finance Committee on Feb. 16. The owners, Front Street Affordable Housing Partners, plan to raise rents to market rates by August 2019.

McKelvey said some lawmakers have been concerned that the state “can’t compel the developer to negotiate.” The county, which is investigating the tax and permitting benefits given to the apartment developers, might have more leverage in bringing the owners to the table, he said. While the House bill isn’t moving forward, McKelvey was hopeful for the Senate version.

“I’m hoping when the Senate version jumps over, I can sit down and try to address these concerns so we don’t have any hang-ups at the very end,” McKelvey said.

Meanwhile, a bill that would provide funding for state and county offices to help Mycogen Seeds workers on Molokai is also headed for the Senate.

In December, the company announced it would shut down operations on Molokai. The first round of layoffs is expected to take place near the end of March or beginning of April with 28 seasonal workers, said Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents her home island of Molokai as well as East Maui, Lanai and Kahoolawe. The rest of the workers — 70 in total — will be phased out through December. The impact on Molokai is comparable to 13,000 workers losing their jobs on Oahu, said DeCoite, whose office calculated impacts based on population.

“Everybody from the Department of Agriculture to the University of Hawaii are all playing a huge role in trying to see what we can do,” DeCoite said.

House Bill 2671 would provide funding to the governor’s office; the state departments of Labor and Industrial Relations; Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Human Resources Development; and Agriculture to help workers transition, whether that’s through higher education or training for different jobs. Funding isn’t specified yet, though budget talks are coming up Thursday.

Two other bills related to DeCoite’s district would supply funding for continued restoration on Kahoolawe, as well as restore the cultural resource project coordinator position to the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission. House Bill 2594 and Senate Bill 3027 are awaiting a third reading before crossing over.

DeCoite said the House bill would likely pass on third reading today.

House Bill 2098 also could move forward. It proposes transferring management of the Kihei small boat ramp to the commission to help fund restoration on Kahoolawe.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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