LIHUE – Two bills aimed at reducing the county fuel and vehicle weight taxes were killed at the county committee this week.
The bills, first introduced by Councilmember Derek Kawakami, late last year, would have reduced the fuel tax from 17 cents per gallon to 13 cents per gallon, and the vehicle weight tax to 1 cent per pound.
If the bills, aimed to provide some relief to local residents who rely on vehicles to get to and from work, had passed, they would have come into effect beginning in Jan. 2019, when the half percent increase of the General Excise Tax will be enacted.
All members present at the meeting, voted to kill bills 2679 and 2680, including Kawakami.
Council Chair Mel Rapozo said as people get away from gas vehicles, it’s going to generate less money for the county, so the county’s going to have to make a decision to make sure that the revenue stays neutral.
That means, he said, unfortunately, the county may have to look at increasing vehicle weight taxes or fuel tax.
“I couldn’t support lowering those taxes because it’s going to compound the effect of reducing revenues because of the weights being less and again, people driving non-fuel cars or hybrids that they’re paying less at the pump or filling up less,” Rapozo said.
Though it’s not a popular thing, Rapozo said the county is going to have to take a serious look at putting the burden of repairing the roads and infrastructure on the people who are causing the issues, which are the cars and the trucks.
“I don’t think people without cars should be forced to pay. It would be like raising property taxes to generate revenue and lowering the golf course fees,” Rapozo said. “Everybody’s going to pay into a fund, but not everyone’s going to benefit. That’s how I look at it.”
Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said he was torn about voting on the fuel tax reduction bill, but he voted in favor of it to eliminate the “no funding” excuse for the next mayor when it comes to fixing the county’s infrastructure.
“It’s what the people want. People want the roads that are in bad shape to be fixed, the bridges that are in bad shape to be fixed. The next mayor will have funds available,” Kagawa said, commending the administration on being persistent in this proposal.
Kawakami said he is thankful for people who drive electric cars and that we’re moving to more sustainable modes of transportation, but they’re (those utilizing these vehicles), not paying their fair share of the infrastructure.
“Who does that hurt, who does that punish the most? That punishes people that are out on the Westside who have to drive into Lihue, more than anybody else,” Kawakami said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know these two declining sources of revenue need to be addressed.”
The county, Kawakami said in an interview with TGI, is too dependent on the fuel and vehicle weight tax as a form of revenue. He said they need to be looking at other forms of revenue.
Though he proposed the bills, Kawakami said he voted along with the other members of the council to kill them, because he doesn’t mind the legal process, which is an educational one for everyone, including himself.
“Part of the job of being a councilmember is to bring forth robust conversations,” Kawakami said.
Councilmembers Arthur Brun and JoAnn Yukimura were excused from Wednesday’s meeting.