Constitutional convention, tax increase for education on Nov. 6 ballot

HILO — In addition to deciding whether the state should hold a constitutional convention, Hawaii voters on the Nov. 6 general election ballot will be asked to consider a precedent-setting change that would move some of the county’s exclusive power to charge real property taxes to the state’s domain.

Thursday was the deadline to submit the ballot language to the state Office of Elections.


The question is simple: “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”

The ramifications of constitutional changes underlying the question are more complicated.

Currently, the constitution states, “all functions, powers and duties relating to the taxation of real property shall be exercised exclusively by the counties.” If the ballot initiative passes, this wording will be appended, “provided that the legislature may establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property.”

The amendment further goes on to add, “Funding of public education shall be determined by the legislature; provided that revenues derived from a surcharge on investment real property pursuant to section 3 of article VIII shall be used to support public education.”

The constitutional change leaves it up to a future Legislature to set the amount of the surcharge, define what constitutes “investment real property” and detail what would qualify to “support public education.”

The Legislature overwhelmingly supported this new source of revenue, with only one lawmaker in either the House or Senate — Sen. Gil Riviere, an Oahu Democrat — voting no.

Proponents of the measure, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law &Economic Justice and a host of educational and progressive groups, say a dedicated source of funding is needed to improve education in the state.

Hawaii has the lowest property taxes in the nation, enabling out-of-state buyers to purchase expensive properties for future investment, proponents say. At the same time, the almost $2 billion education budget, a per-pupil expenditure of $12,855, puts the state at the bottom of education spending when cost of living is taken into account.

“Our children are our future. When teachers instruct their students, we build the foundation for equality and prosperity for tomorrow’s generations,” said Anne Frederick, executive director for the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action. “Every dollar invested in our community’s public schools yields exponential returns, not just for our economy, but for the promise of a more open and democratic society.”

County mayors, council members, real estate associations, hotel and lodging groups and resort groups oppose the measure. Opponents say a new tax will have a domino effect, increasing prices across the board and making the islands even less affordable. They also worry about the lack of specificity in the amendment language, saying it leaves too much room for legislative interpretation.

Mayor Harry Kim, in April 3 testimony to the Legislature, acknowledged the measure has “some superficial political appeal, tied as it is to better funding for education.” But he said impinging on the counties’ primary source of income would be “devastating to us.”

“The burden of the property tax can be heavy for many residents, but since it is virtually the only tool we have, we use it the best we can. A surcharge on residential investment properties would obviously limit county options and make it even more difficult to balance our budgets,” Kim said. “Therefore, we have to jealously guard this taxing authority, and ask that you not break this bright line of separation.”

The other question on the ballot deals with a constitutional convention.

The constitutional convention question also is straightforward: “Shall there be a convention to propose a revision of or amendments to the Constitution?”

There hasn’t been a constitutional convention in the state since 1978. If voters approve a convention Nov. 6, the issue next goes to the state Legislature, which would decide the process of electing delegates. Delegates would be on the ballot in early 2020, and any proposals they make would be on the 2020 general election for the public to decide.

Delegates at the convention could propose any number of changes to the state constitution, from term limits for legislators to changes to the state Sunshine Laws or anything else proposed and passed by convention delegates. All measure must get a final vote by the public at the general election.

There were 34 ballot proposals by the 1978 convention, all of which passed. They included term limits for the governor and lieutenant governor, limits on state borrowing and spending, creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, revamping the court system and increasing privacy rights of individuals.

The constitutional convention is on the ballot, not because the Legislature chose to put it there, but because the constitution requires the question be considered every nine years whether the Legislature puts it on the ballot or not.

  1. Big ideas August 26, 2018 9:11 am

    A power grab by Oahu and the teachers union….keep all decisions local…otherwise we end up with a rail system we pay for and never use.

    1. Buds4All August 27, 2018 5:23 am

      Complete power grab!

  2. 4whatitsworth August 26, 2018 9:34 am

    So after raising all taxes substantially and wasting these funds with massive raises and money to special interests it is now “all about the kids”? If the state really cares about education end the rail project and use the existing TAT increase to fund primary education.

    1. Buds4All August 27, 2018 5:23 am

      Yea hows that rail thing working out. We going to put all the kids on that to go to school?

  3. paul August 26, 2018 4:51 pm

    use the money more efficiently…disband the teachers union,should never have been unionized,no gov job should ever be good salarys,let each island run its own school system,keep the fed guberment out of the system….but stop raising taxes..” for our children they are the future hype”

  4. Buds4All August 27, 2018 5:27 am

    Sure dosent feel that low? I would also like to point out if you tax these outside investors so much some of the supporting businesses with get hurt in the process. Don’t get too greedy here!

    1. RL October 7, 2018 11:09 pm

      Don’t be fooled into thinking they will only go for property owned by “outside investors”. All the B&B people will be considered “investment property” as will the families who bought a second house for their grown children to live in, and the kids went Mainland anyway, so the house is now a rental. Lots of older local people need the rent income from these place to stay living here. Vague definitions and undefined tax rates are wrong, and will hurt more people already struggling. Make them tell us exactly what they mean to do. Vote “no” on this question and ConCon.

  5. Andre Hassid August 27, 2018 9:15 am

    Shouldn’t the definition of “investment property” be defined in the proposed new language appended to the Constitution? Leaving to the legislature to define could result in consequences the voters did not contemplate. Can a future legislature define a person’s primary home as an investment?

  6. Big Mac August 27, 2018 6:08 pm

    It will never be enough for these politicians. They just keep looking for more.

  7. Michael August 28, 2018 10:33 am

    I am not in favor of unions but I am in favor of paying teachers in Hawaii more. For the high price of living here in Hawaii they don’t get anything close to a fair wage considering they had to spend at least 5 years in college … “Hawaii, a state where the average salary for a high school teacher is $58,480, is currently facing a teacher shortage.” Only way to attract and retain teachers is pay them more. I could not support my family on 58K and ever hope to pay a mortgage on a decent house.

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