State legislators took out long-standing frustrations about Hawaii tourism today by overriding Gov. David Ige’s veto of a bill that puts the fate of the Hawaii Tourism Authority in question and dramatically changes how Hawaii’s main tourism agency will be funded.
Both House and Senate members voted by two-thirds majorities to override Ige’s veto of the updated version of House Bill 862, while complaining about how tourism is being managed as the islands see a post COVID-19 tourism rebound that’s generating complaints of overcrowding and other issues across the state.
Ige had announced his intention to veto 28 bills and ended up vetoing 26 of them by today’s deadline — both records for his two terms in office.
Legislators in both chambers then took the unusual step of over-riding several of Ige’s vetoes. The last time Ige had even one of his vetoes overridden occurred in 2016.
Both the Senate and House today voted to override Ige’s vetoes of five bills: House Bill 862, the HTA bill; Senate Bill 263, related to economic development and the “Hawaii Made” program; SB 404 regarding electioneering communication; SB 811, which requires the Department of Education to submit weekly reports of school COVID-19 cases; and SB 1387 regarding pet microchips.
The House also voted to override vetoes of three other bills, killing Senate Bills 639 regarding cases before the state Courts of Appeal; SB 807 that includes new planning and tracking requirements for the state Department of Education; and SB 1409 that requires Native Hawaiian training for newly appointed members of certain state councils, boards and commissions.
The House and Senate also proposed amendments to three bills in response to Ige’s concerns. Both chambers are scheduled to vote on all three on Thursday.
>> HB 54, which appropriates funds to cover fixed costs and replenish the state’s rainy-day fund. An amended version replaces federal American Rescue Plan Act funds with general funds to ensure compliance with federal rules.
>> HB 1299, which abolishes certain special funds and trust funds and deposits the balances into the general fund. Ige vetoed the measure, saying parts of it were unconstitutional. An amended version of the bill reinstates certain funds, including the Milk Control Special Fund, which was set up to administer the Milk Control Act, a law meant to safeguard the local diary industry from market fluctuations.
>> SB 589, which makes structural changes to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. An amended version addresses the Ige’s concerns about jeopardizing existing contracts and the method of appointing a director.
Ige has repeatedly said that the record number of bills he intended to veto was the result of post-legislative session guidance from the U.S. Treasure restricting how COVID-19 ARPA funds could be used.
“I’m very concerned that House Bill 862 as passed would seriously damage HTA’s ability to (operate),” Ige said. “Now, more than ever, we need to strike a balance between a sustainable and respectful visitor industry and mitigating the impacts on our community.”
HB 862, passed last legislative session through an 11th hour gut and replace effort, sought to eliminate the $103 million annual county share of revenue from the transient accommodations tax, or hotel tax. Instead of sending the money to the counties, the state would have kept it.
The changes outlined in HB 862 also would take away the dedicated transient accommodations tax funding HTA has had since its founding. The bill replaced HTA’s normal $79 million annual TAT distribution with $60 million in funding from this year’s American Rescue Plan Act.
“(HB 862) would make it very difficult to operate HTA as well as the convention center,” Ige said. “Additionally, HB 862 would create an inefficient system to collect tax money for the counties. The measure explicitly prohibits the state from assisting (in the process).”
Ige also vetoed several bills approved by the Legislature during uncertain times.
Subsequent guidance from the U.S. Treasure specifically prohibits using federal COVID-19 relief funds for such things as debt service and teacher raises.
Ige also exercised his line item authority to address inconsistencies in the state budget regarding the use of federal funds and has gotten assurance from legislators that “budget holes” — specifically House Bills 53 and 54 — will be addressed in the next legislative session, he said.
Other vetoes were less technical and more “policy differences,” such as Ige’s veto of Senate Bill 811, which would requires the Department of Education to publish a weekly report on schools that have reported positive COVID-19 cases.
Ige said today that the bill risks violating student privacy and there already have been instances of cyber bullying of students who test positive, especially in rural communities.