comscore Given a chance to raise tax, county officials back away | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | On Politics

Given a chance to raise tax, county officials back away

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

Bright and shiny new government programs have many fathers, but the taxes needed to breathe life into those improvements are government’s abandoned orphans.

Across the state, County Councils on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island are walking away from the call to raise taxes for new programs.

Suddenly city fathers in Lihue, Kahului and Hilo are going, “Whose kid is this?”

When the 2015 state Legislature allowed Honolulu County to extend the half-percentage-point general excise tax surcharge for five more years, because the city’s rail project was running out of money, the other counties were also included.

To balance out the law so it doesn’t appear to be specially drafted for Honolulu, state lawmakers had to enable the other counties to also raise the GET to use the money for their own transportation projects.

It is easy to spot county council members and mayors at the state Capitol because they are the ones with the open hand, hoping that lawmakers will fill it with state-collected money. Counties have few ways to raise money and the ability to charge a new tax must be granted by state law.

So when the responsibility for raising the money is attached to the council members, the situation changes.

All three county mayors — Kauai’s Bernard Carvalho, Hawaii island’s Billy Kenoi and Maui’s Alan Arakawa — are all lame ducks; when their present terms end, they are pau. So there was little political risk in all three telling their respective councils, “Go for the money, raise that tax.”

But this spring, as the date for approving a county tax increase nears the July 1 deadline, council members are starting to really not like tax increases.

The Big Island’s Puna district Councilman Greggor Ilagan is the first from his island to flatly say no, according to a West Hawaii Today report.

“I think it’s one good idea. Yes, you have to answer to the voters,” Kenoi said in response, but added the county needs money and if it can’t use GET funds, it has to raise property taxes.

On Maui, Mike White, the Council chairman, was a big fan of using the money Maui generates from the hotel room tax instead of raising the Maui GET.

“The GET is a regressive tax that burdens Maui’s working families,” White said in a piece for the Maui News.

Apparently, one mayor’s regressivity is another mayor’s broad-based tax, as Honolulu’s Mayor Kirk Caldwell has praised the GET because a portion of it is paid by tourists consuming mai tais and buying beach mats.

On Kauai, Carvalho is pointing to the extra $5.2 million the county will have to spend because of pay raises as he renews his plea for the Council to raise the GET.

It would mean an extra $20 million over 10 years and could be used to fix roads, bridges and smooth out traffic hot spots, said the mayor, who will be out of office in 2018.

But already, one Kauai County Council committee has voted to kill the tax increase.

“The GET is an especially onerous tax, and I cannot and will not support it,” Councilman Gary Hooser said in a Kauai Garden Island report.

Somewhere in the political darkness, you can hear that abandoned tax- increase orphan crying.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

Comments (5)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Leave a Reply

  • Perhaps the funding solution for those “bright and shiny” new government projects is to to first discontinue the many dull and obsolete programs wasting taxpayer dollars in perpetuity.

  • Caldwell should stop giving $150+ million of real property taxes to The Bus every year and make the riders pay the full cost of the operations. It won’t mean the total end of Honolulu taxpayers support, the Bus still uses City real property for free (bus barns, OTS office space and storage yards) and pays no real property tax on any of this.

    • Don’t be so generous in your comments about the Councils’ actions. While maintaining the current rates on your real proper tax, they are getting a huge windfall by the rising property values. The government’s thirst for your precious dollars is/has been unquenchable.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up