County charter amendments spark little controversy

While proposed amendments to the state constitution have generated much controversy, reaction to the three proposed amendments to the Kauai County Charter has been relatively quiet.

Kaua’i and Ni’ihau voters will be able to let officials know how they feel about setting aside a percentage of real property tax revenues to buy lands for access and open space; whether or not to reduce the percentage of voter signatures required for initiative or referendum questions; and whether or not to form a county electric power authority.

County voters voice their wishes on the three county and three state questions in addition to sorting through the myriad of candidates on the ballot of the Tuesday, Nov. 5 general election.

Council Chair Ron Kouchi, a candidate for mayor, and Councilmember Gary Hooser, a candidate for state Senate, drafted charter question one, proposing to set aside 1/2 of 1 percent of county property tax revenues each year (around $170,000 this year) to purchase land for public access and other public purposes.

Hooser also proposed charter question two, “Shall the number of voter signatures required to place an initiative or referendum petition on the ballot be reduced from twenty percent (20%) to fifteen percent (15%) of the number of eligible voters in the last preceding general election?”

Initiative is the power of voters to propose county ordinances, and referendum is the power of voters to approve or reject ordinances passed by the County Council.

Based on the 34,652 people registered to vote in the 2000 general election, it would currently take 6,930 signatures to activate an initiative or referendum petition. The proposal would lower that number to 5,198, based on the 2000 number.

At the request of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, the council also put on the ballot a question about establishing an electric power authority within county government:

“Shall the Council be empowered to establish by ordinance an autonomous electric authority corporation for the County, which shall be responsible for the planning, development, production, purchase, transmission, and the distribution of all electricity-related services by the County?”

Though Kusaka has stated that the establishment of an electric power authority is necessary whether or not Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op was successful in purchasing Kauai Electric, there is debate about whether such an authority is actually necessary, since KIUC is scheduled to close the KE deal by the end of this month.

The meaning of blank and over votes is different in County Charter questions than in state Constitution questions. A blank vote or over vote is not counted as either a “yes” or “no” vote in charter questions, which must by the County Charter get a simple majority of those voting to pass or fail.

Where state Constitution questions are concerned, the state Constitution requires that all those taking ballots be counted as voters, even if they do not vote on a particular constitutional question.

Therefore, in order for a state constitutional amendment to pass, the number of “yes” votes must be greater than the sum of the “no” and blank and over votes.

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