Hotel tax, crime among HSAC priorities

Hawaii’s county officials are still clamoring for a greater share of a tax on short-term lodging that was originally intended to help defray the cost of hosting tourists.

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Hawaii’s county officials are still clamoring for a greater share of a tax on short-term lodging that was originally intended to help defray the cost of hosting tourists.

The transient accommodations tax, known as the TAT, is collected as a surcharge on hotels and lodging rentals of less than 180 days. Counties aren’t seeking to increase the tax, just the counties’ share of it.

Last year, the counties split $103 million, with Hawaii County getting $19.2 million of that.

Removing the cap on the TAT, put there by state lawmakers when the state was going through the recession, is one of six priorities the Hawaii State Association of Counties plans to present to the 2015 Legislature. The counties want the state to return to previous allocations of 44.8 percent of the total collected.

The Hawaii County Council will vote on Resolution 545 Wednesday, giving a yes or no to each of the six proposals. All four counties must approve each bill in the HSAC package for it to be sent to the Legislature, which convenes in January.

“I think we should pass it,” Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi, who serves as HSAC vice president, said of the TAT proposal. “At least we put something on the table that they should consider.”

Other measures would appropriate $1.7 million to the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, appropriate $2.8 million to the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. primary care medical residency program, give victims of family violence additional time to get help and legal protection before the order for a period of separation expires, allow non-resident victims of property crime to testify in criminal proceedings by live two-way video connection rather than having to return to Hawaii to testify and clarify the distinction between single-family residential use and single-family transient vacation rentals for regulatory purposes.

Onishi said the measure allowing property crime victims to not have to return to the state to prosecute thefts could help reduce crime. Tourists and visitors are often targeted, he said, because thieves believe the chances of being identified are slim.

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“This way victims wouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to come back to testify,” he said.

The public can testify on Resolution 545 at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center or by videoconference from Hilo council chambers, the Waimea council office, the county facility in Kohala, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center or the Pahoa neighborhood facility.

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