Hawaii counties sue state to block tax ballot question
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii counties are seeking to block a ballot question that would amend the state constitution to give the Legislature the power to tax investment real estate to fund schools.
The state’s four counties encompassing the Big Island, Kauai, Maui and Oahu filed an amended complaint against the state Wednesday, claiming the ballot question is vague, misleading and deceptive.
On the November ballot, voters are poised to be asked, “Shall the Legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”
Under current state law, only counties have the power to levy property taxes.
County officials claim the question’s wording is not clear enough for voters to understand that it would give additional taxing power to the Legislature. They also claim it could hurt counties’ ability to raise revenue to fund services and infrastructure projects.
The city and county of Honolulu first filed the complaint last week. Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the question’s wording is too broad to meet legal requirements, and it should be removed from the ballot. The question’s wording can’t be immediately changed because the Legislature isn’t in session, she said.
“We don’t think voters will clearly understand the effect of their ‘yes’ vote or ‘no’ vote,” Leong said. “For example, when someone buys a residential property as a home all of us hope that the property will appreciate and that we’ll build our equity in the property. Is this investment real property?”
The Hawaii State Teachers Association has backed the question, saying it would support teachers and underfunded schools. The state’s intent is to tax only second homes valued at more than $1 million, said Corey Rosenlee, the association president.
“One of the things that we need to recognize right now is we do have an educational crisis in Hawaii. We have 1,000 classrooms that don’t have qualified teachers. About one-third of students go to school every day and don’t have a qualified teacher,” Rosenlee said. “We have got to increase funding. The only question is how are we going to do it. Are we going to ask the wealthiest among us to do it or not?”
The November ballot is scheduled to be printed next week.