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Survey finds support for Oahu hotel tax, help for rail

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A solid majority of Oahu voters — 70% — favor a proposed county tax aimed at visitors, and 56% support the tax if it helps fund the city’s troubled rail project.

Support increases among leeward-side registered voters, who are expected to benefit from rail: 72% of respondents from Ewa to Waianae like the idea of a new countywide transient accommodations tax in general; and 63% like the idea that a portion would help fund rail, according to a survey by Omnitrak for Move O’ahu Forward, an organization that supports the city’s rail project.

Support goes up among those who are opposed or undecided when pollsters told them “tax monies will help create jobs and affordable housing in neighborhoods around fixed rail stations through transit- oriented development; ease traffic; keep ticket prices down; or ensure the route runs to Ala Moana.

Between 21% to 35% are “converted,” saying they favor a county TAT with half going to a transit fund, according to the survey.

The results run counter to the commonly repeated idea that Oahu voters would cancel the project if given the chance today, said Pat Loui, Omnitrak’s founder and CEO. “In our opinion as pollsters, it clearly debunks that,” Loui said.

An Omnitrak poll conducted in 2012 found that rail was supported by 40% of Oahu respondents and opposed by 59%.

Since then, Loui said, “What we’re seeing is growing support and in some ways it reflects the national perspective that government needs to help solve problems. … Especially at the county level … traffic is a day-to-day issue for residents. … Completing this rail project will help to ease this problem for residents.”

The survey of 500 Oahu registered voters was conducted from Oct. 9 through Oct. 16. It relied on an online survey and interviews with 70% of cell phone users and 30% who were contacted via landline. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

On Wednesday the City Council voted 6-to-3 to move Bill 40 for a hearing next Wednesday before the Council’s Budget Committee. It could then go to a vote before the full Council in December. If approved, the county could impose a new transient accommodations tax of up to 3% on Oahu hotel rooms, vacation rentals and time shares but not on residential rental units.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is seeking an unspecified portion of the tax to help plug its current $3.5 billion shortfall to build rail from East Kapolei to the interior of Ala Moana Center, Hawaii’s busiest transit hub.

The plan is to run a system comprised of 20 trains along a 20.2-mile, 21-station route that’s currently budgeted to cost $12.499 billion, scheduled for completion in March 2031.

Councilman Augie Tulba supports the rail project, in general, and also likes the idea of new tax that would help the city make improvements around the island that would affect both residents and visitors. “I want to see those taxes go to core services,” Tulba said. “If I’m a tourist, I don’t want to fly into Hawaii and see homelessness. I don’t want to go into a bathroom … and say, ‘Why is this all broken?’”

But Tulba opposes a new TAT if it includes funding for rail.

“It’s a blank check (for HART,)” Tulba said. “Until HART can show me real numbers, I am voting ‘no.’ … It concerns me. I like see this thing get finished. But we keep using up our bonds, our credit. I don’t know anybody that does that.”

Heidi Tsuneyoshi, a frequent rail critic, also opposes the TAT proposal, like Tulba. She called the Omnitrak survey “a broad brush on what the sentiments are.” Tsuneyoshi would like Bill 40 to specify how TAT revenue would be spent “in perpetuity,” as Kauai County’s new 3% tax does.

Both Bill 40 and the Omnitrak survey, Tsuneyoshi said, do “not answer any real questions about what to do in perpetuity. We do need more revenue for infrastructure, but (Bill 40) doesn’t provide any real clarity on how it’s going to be used and how it impacts our city functions.

“The TAT is specifically to address impacts on current infrastructure — and not for a (rail) project that’s not even started. It’s not yet operational and not being used by anybody.”

“I feel we’re doing it again — putting the cart before the horse without adequate information,” Tsuneyoshi said. “It’s very disappointing.”



Percent of overall support on Oahu for proposed county transient accomodations tax of up to 3%


Percent of respondents from Ewa to Waianae who like the idea of a new TAT


Percent of Oahu respondents who support a TAT to help fund the city’s rail project


Percent of respondents from Ewa to Waianae who favor a TAT to help pay for rail

Source: Omnitrak

Correction: A 2012 Omnitrak poll found that 40% of respondents supported the Honolulu rail project and 59% were opposed. An earlier version of this story transposed those figures.
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