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State Legislature convenes with hotel taxes, wages on agenda

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 05:19 p.m. HST, Jan 15, 2014

State lawmakers are embarking on the 2014 legislative session in one of the best fiscal positions in a long time, Speaker of the House Joseph M. Souki told House members during this morning's opening session.

"With Hawaii's economy growing, construction stable, tourism strong and unemployment down, there is every reason for hope and optimism," Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku) said in his opening day remarks. "While the past few years have placed us in survival mode, this year we have a real chance to create opportunities."

Given the economic conditions, Souki asked House members to consider removing the cap placed on the Transient Accommodations Tax allocated to the counties, allowing them to better support Hawaii's tourism industry.

"In this strong economy, should we not be thinking about a greater partnership with our counties who provide much of the services that directly support tourism?" he said, eliciting applause from the audience. "They are the ones who maintain our roads and parks and provide the law enforcement officers and first responders who directly serve our visitors as well as our kamaaina."

Souki also called upon legislators to allow a law passed during tough economic times that makes Hawaii's personal income tax one of the highest in the nation to sunset as scheduled in 2015.

To compensate for the loss in state revenues, Souki suggested the state study ways to collect sales tax that are generated by out-of-state online companies and now go uncollected.

Additional opportunities that a growing economy will afford include helping kupuna and families with long-term care, aiding the homeless, creating jobs, strengthening the state's rainy day fund, repairing schools and supporting the Governor's Council for Literacy, Souki said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said the Senate will likely revisit the issue of raising the state's minimum wage, which is now $7.25 an hour. An effort last year to raise it to $9 an hour failed.

Debates over early childhood education, genetically modified crops and state spending are also expected to dominate the election-year session.

Souki started his remarks by thanking lawmakers for their participation in last year's special session on gay marriage and told members that it's time to move forward and help the community heal.

"It was divisive, not only for us, but for our entire community," he said of the session that wrapped up in November with Gov. Neil Abercrombie signing a same-sex marriage bill into law. "But no matter what your stand on the issue, I want to thank you for your participation. Because as we all know, in a democracy, the discussion and debates are just as important -- if not more so -- than the resulting decision."

Also today, the House's newest member Richard Creagan, a doctor and vice president of Kiolakaa Mountain Farms, was sworn into office. He replaces Denny Coffman in representing a district that includes Naalehu, Captain Cook and Keauhou. Coffman resigned last month to deal with a family health problem.

To mark 55 years of statehood, hundreds of former lawmakers were invited to today's opening-day ceremonies, and each chamber prepared booklets that document the state's legislative history. More than 50 former representatives and about 40 past senators were expected to attend.

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serious wrote:
I am a slow learner: are invasive species the tourists or the homeless?? Certainly not Republicans in this welfare state they couldn't survive in this "love the Jones Act" atmosphere.
on January 15,2014 | 10:39AM
mcc wrote:
Here they go again, where are they going to get money to spend on waste on frivolous projects now?
on January 15,2014 | 11:07AM
what wrote:
They say nothing about reducing waste in government, only about raiding hard-working taxpayers for more money.
on January 15,2014 | 11:46AM
BlueDolphin53 wrote:
He should have said...."With Hawaii's economy growing, construction stable, tourism strong and unemployment down,.......we will be looking at ways to get money back into the hands of the people by reducing taxes." Unfortunately, his line about "opportunities" makes me think more social projects.
on January 15,2014 | 11:31AM
They are discussing where to raise the needed money(ie: out-of state on-line companies), if they would only figure out that all the money we are losing to LV and gambling could be recouped by engaging in gambling for 1 and not to mention legalizing pot and begin collecting the revenues from the taxes of sales....but no, too many people that cant see the change necessary to keep up with our ever-increasing needs to sustain our infrastructure, education, health.....what a shame!
on January 15,2014 | 11:45AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Ask Gov. Ariyoshi as he and Sam Boyd “gave birth” to the LV California Hotel connection. Sickening this pat on the back attitude. Accomplish nothing Ledge!
on January 15,2014 | 12:09PM
ShibaiDakine wrote:
Comment has been sent for approval
on January 15,2014 | 12:39PM
kainalu wrote:
Colorado' legalized pot industry hit $5-million dollars in retail sales in it's first 5-days. Are you kidding me? Taxed at production, again at distribution, and finally at the cash register, Colorado is expecting a tax-windfall projected to be $67-million dollars in this first year. That doesn't include the projected savings on enforcement, adjudication, and incarceration - related to pot, those systems no longer required, hence, no longer using tax-dollars. The state of Washington goes online with legal pot sales in a couple of more weeks, and Alaska is expected to follow by Summer. There are initiatives on ballots in a half-dozen or so other states, so by 2015, there may be a dozen states or so with legal pot. Meanwhile, our legislature is beefing over $10 million dollars allocated for UH, and many are concerned about funding Abercrombie's public pre-schools. How much do you want to bet that Hawaii will be one of the last states to legalize pot? Imagine, all the sugar-cane and pineapple fields that are still available for agriculture use, would be prime land to grow pot. And I haven't even touched on the hemp-pulp industry. smh
on January 15,2014 | 02:03PM
MakaniKai wrote:
You would think Neil would be all over legalizing pakalolo! Me too smh.
on January 15,2014 | 02:52PM
Bdpapa wrote:
Get a life. No legalization or we will be worst than those enablers in Colorado!
on January 15,2014 | 07:54PM
Locokane wrote:
Souki is RIGHT ON for looking at the cap placed on the Transient Accommodations Tax allocated to the counties because the Hawaii Travel Authority who gets over $100M annually mismanages their funds. I would also hope that they look at the film industry and the non-profit NFL who always asks for tax breaks. Why should these owners who are millionaires and billionaires get HI tax credit when our own 65% of our keikis cannot afford public school lunches. Maybe Souki should look into taxing the NFL for advertising revenues earned during the PRO Bowl!
on January 15,2014 | 03:53PM
Bdpapa wrote:
If the Pro Bowl isn't right tell them to take a hike!
on January 15,2014 | 07:55PM
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