Passing ballot measure may have adverse implications

Our County

During this year’s general election on Nov. 6, there is a ballot measure which reads, “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”

Please note that as written, the passing of this ballot measure may have adverse implications for the County of Maui. As your mayor I feel I have an obligation to point out these negative impacts in order to provide you with the information you need to make your own educated decision as voters.

Before I get into that however, I’d like to point out that Maui County has always and will always support education on every possible level. We may not be paying teachers’ salaries but we help the state Department of Education (DOE) out in other ways, by putting playground equipment in parks next to schools, by funding grants for use by U.H. Maui College and by helping to provide safer routes to school, by improving roads, sidewalks and even installing roundabouts.

Every dollar we spend improving infrastructure surrounding our schools is a dollar the DOE doesn’t have to spend.

In any case, you should know that first, there is no guarantee that allowing the state to tap into your county property taxes will mean an increase in the DOE budget. Rather, your property taxes will go directly into the state general fund and from there the money can go anywhere.

Secondly, look up the meaning of the word “surcharge” and it will be described to mean “an additional charge or payment” or something similar. How much of an additional charge we do not know. Neither do we know what kind of properties will be taxed. Single-family homes? Condominiums? Hotels?

In fact, state legislators admit they don’t know either.

“Nothing has been determined on what type of property would be assessed and what type of legislation we would be comfortable with,” said state House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Sept. 18, 2018.) “So even if the property tax amendment passes, I doubt that the amount generated would be in the range . . . the teachers’ union suggests.”

“The reason I voted [for Senate Bill 2922] with reservations is because I did not like the language,” said House Rep. Jimmy Tokioka (The Garden Island newspaper, Sept. 19, 2018.) “I though it needed to be clearer about what the amendment was actually going to do.”

If the legislators who helped to place this constitutional amendment on the ballot aren’t exactly sure what will do, how can they expect anyone to vote on it? This begs the legal question as to whether it belongs on the ballot in the first place.

Because of this the County of Maui has joined the other counties of Hawaii in an appeal from the First Circuit Court’s ruling in a lawsuit over Senate Bill No. 2922.

While the county certainly understands and appreciates the importance of funding education, the ballot initiative as it is currently worded is not clear as to whether the “surcharge” is a really a property tax, not clear as to what is meant by “investment property,” and provides no guarantee of an increase in funding for public education.

Corporation counsel for all counties argue collectively that the constitutional amendments proposed by the state are of a magnitude which should require a constitutional convention, like the convention in 1978 which gave complete responsibility for the real property tax to the counties 40 years ago.

In this manner, all counties would be given the opportunity to send delegates to a convention to discuss the proposed amendments, and contribute their 40 years of experience with the real property tax administration to the discussion of such an important change to the Hawaii State Constitution.

The counties have also jointly filed an appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and a Writ — basically an emergency petition to the Supreme Court — to bring up that this ballot measure is unclear and misleading.

Note that your property taxes help to pay for our police, fire, lifeguards, road repair, water, wastewater, landfill operations as well as many other programs and services. If the state needs the county’s help to assist our teachers and their students, there are better ways to do it.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.