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Isle retailers decide whether to charge tax on newspapers

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QUESTION: No local supermarkets charge the general excise tax on local or national newspapers. Barnes & Noble does and says the state tax office told them they should. But I’ve read a state law and a federal statute that seem to exempt newspapers. So who’s right?

ANSWER: This is another case of it being up to the retailer to decide whether to visibly pass on the state’s general excise tax to consumers.

So both sides are "right."

Newspapers are subject to the GET — they are not exempt, said Denise Inouye, supervising income tax specialist with the state Department of Taxation.

Retailers are taxed on their gross receipts regardless of whether they choose to visibly charge the GET on receipts, she said. They may visibly pass on a maximum GET of 4.166 percent on the neighbor islands or 4.712 percent on Oahu.

While it is a common practice to show the GET, retailers are not required to do so by law, Inouye said.

The fact that one retailer visibly passes on the GET to its customers and another does not "is not an indication that one of the retailers is incorrectly charging or not charging tax to its customers," she said.

Inouye provided a copy of a 1978 news release, which explained that under a new state law, newspaper printing and publishing companies would be classified with job printers as "manufacturers" and thus subject to the GET.


QUESTION: For several weeks mall street lamps surrounding the interior courtyard of the Keelikolani Building as well as Mililani Mall (bounded by Queen and Punchbowl streets) have been totally dark at night. What is happening here? Don’t tell me the state is sacrificing the public’s safety and vitality of the area by trying to save electricity!

ANSWER: The lights at Mililani Mall are on timers, which needed to be reset after a Sept. 7 power failure was caused by a blown Hawaiian Electric transformer, said Russ Saito, head of the Department of Accounting and General Services.

Those lights were not turned off to save electricity, although the Keelikolani Building interior courtyard lights are, he said.

The heads of departments in those buildings can request air conditioning and lights to be on after normal business hours but would have to pay for the extra cost of electricity.

So far, that arrangement hasn’t been made for the building, Saito said. He said he would have his building manager follow up with the Tax and Labor department heads.

QUESTION: Recently, during my morning commute to work in Mililani Mauka, I observed a vehicle making an illegal right turn from the middle lane of the intersection. The driver wanted to avoid having to wait his/her turn in the long line waiting to make a right turn. Vehicles in the middle lane are supposed to proceed straight through the intersection. I observed this same vehicle doing this the week before. I wrote down his/her license plate number because I suspected that he/she was going to do the same thing again and again. Should I report this to the Police Department? If so, would they actually contact the owner of the vehicle to warn them?

ANSWER: At one point the Honolulu Police Department did send out warning letters, based on information sent in by the public.

However, "Generally, we don’t send them anymore," said HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu. The problem was that HPD couldn’t prove who the actual driver was, she said.

Basically, an officer has to personally witness a violation before a driver can be cited.

Write to "Kokua Line" at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail


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