Chair’s 3 Minutes: Fairness matters – Budgets aren’t just about numbers

A budget is a moral document.

That maxim has been reinforced this month, as the council’s Budget and Finance Committee has heard from the people of Maui

County during nighttime district meetings. The testimony presented to council members as we scrutinize the fiscal year 2014 budget has been heartfelt and compelling – obliging us to look beyond cold numbers and consider the implications of our decisions on people’s lives.

So far, we have met with residents in Kihei, Pukalani, Paia, Hana and Lahaina.

Many have shared ideas on how to make Maui County an even better place to live, work and visit. Others have also told us about the many programs and nonprofit organizations that are vital to the health and wellness of our community, while cautioning us to exercise fiscal prudence for the sake of future generations.

This week, we conclude our budget tour, with meetings tomorrow at Mitchell Pauole Center on Molokai (6 p.m.), Wednesday at Lihikai School Cafeteria in Kahului (6:30 p.m.) and Friday at the Lanai Community Center (6 p.m.).

The budget committee also will continue daytime meetings in the Council Chambers, with plans to meet with the mayor, police chief, fire chief, director of parks and recreation, transportation director and managing director.

While county government is focused on its annual budget session, the state government is in the midst of its annual legislative session.

This year, the administration and council have made a joint effort to walk the halls of the state Capitol and lobby for the people of Lanai, Maui and Molokai. Mayor Alan Arakawa, Council Member Michael Victorino, former Council Chairman Danny Mateo and I met with legislators on April 3 to express the county’s united opposition to a bill limiting county revenue in perpetuity.

Senate Bill 1194 proposes to permanently cap the counties’ share of revenue from the transient accommodations tax, known as the TAT or hotel room tax. Next to the real property tax, the TAT is the county’s most important revenue source.

Because the counties provide the bulk of the services used by visitors – including parks, roads, public safety, water and wastewater – it is only fair that each county receive a proportionate share of TAT revenues.

The counties are happy to invest in the visitor industry – but county residents deserve a fair return on that investment.

In 2011, the state established a temporary, emergency $93 million cap on TAT reimbursement to the counties. Now that Hawaii’s economy is in recovery – with hotel occupancy at record levels – there’s no longer a need for it.

The TAT cap is set to expire on June 30, 2015. If the cap expires as originally intended, the counties will be able to share the benefit of increases in TAT revenues. Senate Bill 1194 would permanently and unfairly exclude the counties from this earned benefit.

I encourage everyone to let their state legislators know you join the Maui County Council in opposing Senate Bill 1194. Your voices make a difference – at all levels of government.

A hui hou.

* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council.