Voters deserve facts on proposed constitutional amendment

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

NOTE: This article is the second of a three-part informational series.

On this year’s general election ballot, the following question will be posed to voters: “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”

Residents have had a number of questions regarding this measure and the related item in the County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, which I chair, so I offer the following answers to the most commonly asked questions:

How does the state currently fund the Department of Education ? Are there other revenue options?

The state DOE has an annual operating budget of $1.99 billion, of which $1.63 billion is funded by state general funds. General fund revenue is raised from the general excise and use taxes, income taxes, the transient accommodations tax and other taxes and non-tax revenues. The state currently has exclusive control over 14 different taxes with many revenue options other than taxing real property.

Recently in a report to the Legislature, the state Tax Review Commission identified ways to raise additional tax revenue without creating a new tax. The commission recommended raising revenue by collecting tax on remote sales, taxing e-cigarettes, and studying the implementation of a carbon tax and compliance with current tax laws.

How does the county currently support our keiki and their education?

The county supports our keiki from infancy through adulthood using money raised by taxing real property. Property taxes are the largest revenue component of the county general fund, which supports programs and activities including the Boys and Girls Clubs, youth centers and youth programs; Maui Economic Development Board for STEM and robotics; Maui High Automotive Program; School Garden Network; Best Buddies; Academy of Hotel and Tourism; Arts in Education programs through the Maui Arts & Cultural Center; Maui Academy of Performing Arts programs; and educational opportunities such as Hui Malama Learning Center.

County property taxes also help to maintain park facilities widely utilized throughout the school day such as Wells Park, Wailuku Gym and War Memorial Complex (gym, baseball stadium, football stadium and track field, and swimming pool).

Why did the Maui County Council adopt Resolution 18-156, urging the state Office of the Auditor to audit the Department of Education?

The most recent fiscal accountability audit of the department took place 15 years ago in 2003 and found that the department only minimally complied with statutory requirements for planning, programming and budgeting principles, and measures of effectiveness were “irrelevant, inaccurate and ambiguous.”

Past audits have continuously identified the need for better financial management and fiscal accountability within the department, and the Legislature hasn’t enforced accountability.

Before fundamentally altering real property taxation, a comprehensive financial and performance audit to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the department is necessary. This would give the Legislature tools to make well-informed decisions to ensure high-quality educational opportunities are available for our keiki.

If the proposed amendment passes, will teachers be guaranteed higher salaries?

No, it does not guarantee higher salaries. Pursuant to Chapter 89, Hawaii Revised Statutes, the salaries of public employees, including teachers, should be negotiated with exclusive representatives through collective bargaining, rather than direct financial requests to voters and taxpayers. This represents a failure of the collective bargaining system.

* Riki Hokama is chairman of the County Council Budget and Finance Committee. He holds the council seat for the Lanai residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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