Mayor, Asing say ‘no’ to sales tax

Kaua‘i Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste and County Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing oppose new taxes.

Though Republican Gov. Linda Lingle last week said all four county mayors support a proposal to allow the counties to levy a 1 percent sales tax, Baptiste and Asing both went on the record yesterday opposing such a tax.

“At this point, the mayor is not in favor of levying another tax on Kaua‘i residents, especially if it’s at the expense of the TAT,” said Cyndi Mei Ozaki, county public information officer.

A proposal expected to be debated in the state Legislature when it reconvenes in January would if approved give county officials the ability to levy the sales tax in exchange for half of Kaua‘i’s share of the transient accommodations tax (TAT, or hotel-room tax).

For the current fiscal year, Kaua‘i’s TAT revenue is expected to be around $11.8 million.

Though it is not known how much the 1-percent plan would add to Kaua‘i county coffers, a 1-percent sales tax would generate $120 million for the City and County of Honolulu, which receives $35 million in TAT payments from the state.

Baptiste “sees this tax as just adding yet another tax onto the people, and does not feel that there’s any financial benefit for the people of Kaua‘i,” said Ozaki.

Also Monday, Asing said he can’t support the new-tax plan. “I would have some difficulty with that. Taxing power just gives the county more opportunity to impose additional taxes on the people,” Asing said.

“In general, I don’t agree with that.”

The current system of relying principally on property taxes to fund Kaua‘i county government operations has been working well, he added.

So unless changes are made to the property-tax system that necessitate new taxes in order to fund the operations of county government, Asing said he cannot support any initiative to create such a tax, said Asing.

Under some earlier proposals at the state Legislature, new laws would have given counties the ability to levy sales taxes. But county councils would have to adopt ordinances putting the tax systems into place.

Last week, Lingle said she supports the concept of giving counties additional taxing power, but does not like the idea of tying such taxing power to counties’ shares of the TAT.

Kaua‘i Council Vice Chair Jimmy Tokioka and county Finance Director Michael Tresler yesterday attended a hearing on O‘ahu called by state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-Moanalua-Aiea-Pearlridge, chair of the Senate Tourism Committee.

The meeting was to discuss the TAT as it pertains to the counties and the 2004 session of the state Legislature.

Tokioka and Tresler could not be reached for comment yesterday.

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau, traveling on the Mainland, also could not be reached for comment.

Roger Cable, chairman of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said he needs to discuss the matter with the Chamber’s legislative committee before commenting specifically on the tax plan.

But, he did offer this: “It’s just another tax. It doesn’t sound good to me.”

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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