A longtime critic of state taxes and fee increases in the state Legislature is now advocating for a new surcharge on all overseas flights to raise money to help recruit and retain police officers in Hawaii.
House Minority Leader Gene Ward, (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai), is the highest-ranking elected Republican in the state, and has for years resisted tax and fee increases for purposes such as the Honolulu rail project or highway maintenance.
However, in a news release on Tuesday, Ward proposed a new $5 charge on all overseas flights except for interisland travel to fund a “Blue Lives Matter special fund” that would be used to recruit and retain police officers. Ward said the new charge is needed because of a recent increase in crime and a statewide police shortage.
At the start of this year the Honolulu Police Department was “short” 318 officers, with many more eligible for retirement, Ward said in his statement.
The most recent statistics available suggest Hawaii’s crime rate has been dropping in recent years, and this state has a particularly low rate of gun-related crimes, so it is not yet clear from the crime statistics whether the state is truly in the midst of some sort of violent crime wave.
However, authorities acknowledge that some recent high-profile cases have made residents uneasy.
“It is a tragedy that our residents no longer feel safe in their neighborhoods, and we owe it to our biggest industry to ensure that visitors can stay in the Aloha State without fear of robbery or assault,” said Ward. “We are listening to our constituents who are crying for a solution. We hope this will start a broader conversation how to address their needs.”
House Bill 2728 has been referred for a joint hearing by the Committees on Labor and Public Employment; Tourism & International Affairs; and Public Safety, Veterans & Military Affairs, but that hearing has not been scheduled yet. If the measure clears those committees, it would then be considered by the House Finance Committee.
It would also need to win the approval of the state Senate and Gov. David Ige to become law.
“We’re expected to have 10 million visitors this year and Hawaii is facing a dire police shortage, especially in the City & County of Honolulu” says Ward. “The concept of a visitor surcharge is seen around the world, and both kamaaina and tourists will benefit from the Blue Lives Matter special fund.”