County Council set to take final vote on tax increase today

HILO — Eighteen people came out to a public hearing Monday evening on a proposed quarter-percent increase in the general excise tax, evenly split between those in support and those in opposition.

The county administration attributes a $5 million hole in its budget to the loss of property tax revenues from property destroyed, isolated or otherwise devalued because of the lava flow through lower Puna.

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If Bill 159 passes, the tax goes into effect Jan. 1, raising about $10 million for the 2018-19 budget year, and $20 million the year after that.

The money can be used only for transportation improvements, mass transit, sidewalks and trails, under the state law that allowed the optional tax. But, because the county currently uses almost $5 million from its general fund to finance mass transit, the tax revenues could free up that amount in the general fund.

Because the tax is itself taxed, the tax on a $100 purchase would increase by 26 cents, raising the purchase from $104.17 to $104.43, once the 4 percent state GET is also taken into account.

The County Council is set to take its final vote on the tax increase today. The council is almost as evenly split as the testifiers, with some saying the county needs the money and others pushing for decreased spending.

“It comes to a certain point that you have to be concerned about doing what’s right rather than whats in your image,” said former Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who supports the tax. She said having a reputation as one who doesn’t raise taxes doesn’t help if the county can’t find other ways to raise revenues.

Supporters also included a county employee and county consultants, as well as members of the public saying they see the need.

Another former council member, former South Kona/Ka’u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, said the administration hasn’t made it clear where the money will be spent. She urged the council to oppose the tax until it had a clear list of expenditures.

“This is just asking for a shell game. … Do not let the administration do this,” Ford said. “Do not let this administration fool the public or even fool you. … It’s got to be very specific.”

Others wanted more details as well.

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“It’s hard to support raising taxes until the county does a better job both saying where the money is going and making that money go as far as possible,” said Geoff Shaw.

The county currently doesn’t get any of the GET, which is collected by the state. The tax is collected on almost all transactions in the state, but doesn’t apply to most prescription drugs or federal food assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC.

  1. diverdave June 19, 2018 2:35 am

    Tax and Spend. Tax and Spend.
    Once it goes up it will NEVER come down again.
    This group never saw a tax they didn’t like!


  2. Scooby June 19, 2018 6:06 am

    How hard is it for this reporter to ask the Finance Director how’d she come to the 5 mil amount? Civil Defense, Harry Kim, and FEMA all have different numbers of homes destroyed yet the 5 mil has been constant for over a month now. Another interesting note is the 5 mil just so happens to be the amount the county budgets for mass transit, and this GET tax is specific to mass transit and roads. This is yet another way for this administration to tax us to free up money for the next round of raises.


  3. Raoul Duke II June 19, 2018 7:35 am

    Ready…set…GO…you know they will approve the GET increase. The
    shiftless grifters on the county council never saw a TAX they didn’t
    like because they don’t have enough of YOUR $$$ to spend on useless
    inefficient government programs and bureaucrats. They never heard of the
    idea of “belt tightening” where you cut spending to match your
    revenues. Why should they cut anything when they can pull out their
    “magic wands” and raise the property taxes…raise the gas tax….raise
    the TAT…and now raise the GET to extract every last cent of your hard
    earned income. The council is full of politicians with nothing but
    contempt for the hard working stiffs who pay the bills. Remember how
    they think or you will go crazy …they believe that what you earn by
    working hard every day and saving for your family is really THEIRS…not
    yours….they allow you to keep a little to pay your gas bill…you
    electric bill…your cable bill…your phone bill…but the rest is
    THEIRS and DON’T YOU FORGET IT…you’re lucky they allow you to keep any
    of it because they need it to spread around to their developer buds and
    public employee union supporters so they can continue to soak you for
    all they can.


  4. KonaLife June 19, 2018 7:44 am

    So they claim they lose $5 million in tax revenue, yet need to raise $10 million next year and $20 million the year after that? This is NOT about the costs for the Puna lava flows; it is about raising more more for our spend-happy county to raise pay (66% of budget is for salaries) at the expense of taxpayers. Of course the Council will vote for this, as they, too, are County employees, have benefited from pay raises themselves.


  5. 4whatitsworth June 19, 2018 9:45 am

    A FEW FACTS AND QUESTIONS:

    1) Property tax is paid in advance so it should not be considered a loss since it was never actually earned. This is accounting 101.
    2) Most of the buses are empty do we really need more of these?
    3) People are going to be hurting after the 30-40 percent loss of revenue from tourists canceling their trip. This is on top of increased gas prices, rising rent, and fees. This tax is just another nail in the coffin for working people and if the Feds increase taxes it is really over for anyone who wants to get ahead in Hawaii.
    4) So far massive amounts of the new tax money has been misspent and has simply lined the pockets of government bureaucrats and employees. Why would this tax increase be any different?
    5) In the current environment a tax increase provides incentives for the government to work less. It will also encourage people to spend less. Is that really what we want?

    Make the government work or cut the expenses before it is to late and more people start leaving this is a death spiral!


  6. metalman808 June 19, 2018 11:40 am

    The machine is unstoppable and that’s bullshit. The Elections are probably rigged or is it we the people are just totally stupid. Dah, yes please steal all our money.


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