Old general excise tax hike resurfaces on council agenda

  • Jon Henricks
  • Maile David
  • Aaron Chung

HILO — The County Council has resurrected an old general excise tax hike that was postponed last May and put it on Wednesday’s council agenda for consideration.

But officials say it’s on the agenda only as a procedural move, because the previous council in May had postponed it to the second council meeting in January. The council then adopted a half-sized measure raising the GET by one-quarter percent. That bill went into effect Jan. 1.

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A brand-new bill, raising the tax to one-half percent and extending its duration by 10 years, will be on the Feb. 4 Finance Committee agenda, they said. That new bill will have to go to two council readings and a public hearing before being passed.

“What this is, we’re taking out the trash,” County Clerk Jon Henricks said Thursday. “I appreciate the fact that this is confusing.”

Henricks said the bill is now “obsolete,” and it would take “Frankenstein” measures to whip it into anything that could be passed. The bill is based on the old county code before the previous bill changed it, he said, making it simpler for the council to start from scratch if it wants to raise the tax.

Mayor Harry Kim is asking the council to raise the tax to deal with continuing budget pressures brought by the Kilauea Volcano eruption and steadily rising costs for employees and construction materials. The current one-quarter cent on a dollar brings in about $25 million annually; the county could take in $50 million if it were doubled to one-half cent.

Henricks, Council Chairman Aaron Chung and Finance Committee Chairwoman Maile David discounted the possibility that the old Bill 102 could be amended to allow it to move forward instead of the new bill that will be heard in February. Bill 102 has already gone through the public hearing process and could, in theory, move faster as the county faces a March 31 deadline to pass something or lose the chance.

“This is a procedural measure we had to deal with because we postponed it,” David said. “It will be a lot cleaner to go the other route.”

Chung said the council has to deal with it, but it’s not particularly newsworthy.

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“It’s only a housekeeping measure already,” Chung said. “It’s just up because we saved it.”

The public can speak on the bill at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the meeting, to be held at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Public comment will also be taken at Hilo council chambers, the Waimea and Pahoa council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.