Presenting a modest wish list of projects, mostly from Maui and the Big Island, the state’s four county mayors appeared before the Legislature’s money committees yesterday with the same message as last year: Don’t touch our hotel room tax money.
The mayors were unified in calling on lawmakers to keep in place funding received by counties from the state hotel room tax, known as the Transient Accommodations Tax. This year’s take is estimated to be about $100 million, to be distributed among the four counties.
Last year, in an effort to balance the state budget, Gov. Linda Lingle tried to divert the revenue from the counties to the state’s coffers. Lawmakers ultimately rejected the idea.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has pledged to leave the tax money alone and legislative leaders have said a TAT scoop is unlikely, but the mayors acknowledged that anything can happen.
"I don’t think it’s an immediate danger, but you can’t ever be certain what’s going to happen during the legislative session," Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said after the joint hearing of the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees. "So it’s something that we are going to be defensive about."
Carlisle also asked lawmakers to leave in place all money dedicated to Honolulu from the 0.5 percent surcharge on the general excise tax. By law, 90 percent of those funds are set aside to the county for mass transit projects, with the rest going to the state for administrative costs.
"Borrowing or tampering with the fund may negatively affect federal support and funding of Honolulu’s rail project," Carlisle told the committee.
Sen. J. Kalani English noted that in the past, the county, under the previous administration, had asked the Legislature to return some or all of the 10 percent of the surcharge taken by the state to help it deal with its budget. Carlisle said he had no plans to ask for any of that money.
Carlisle and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho presented their testimony without asking for any new spending from the state.
Among the requests from Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa were support for a proposal to create a regional park in central Maui and help in developing water resources for Upcountry Maui.
"We’re not trying to ask for a lot of things because we know this is a tough economic year," Arakawa said.
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s wish list included $8.7 million for an extension of Kapiolani Street at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, for a project to open up 42 acres for development of badly needed student housing.
Kenoi also sought legislative support for $10 million to expand and modernize the emergency room facilities at Kona Community Hospital, part of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.