House speaker: Lift county cap on hotel tax

HONOLULU — Hawaii House Speaker Joseph Souki started the 2014 legislative session Wednesday by calling for lawmakers to remove a cap on how much counties can share in the state’s hotel room taxes, a move that would be welcomed by local mayors on the islands.

Souki said the state should think about building a greater partnership with the local governments that give services that help tourists.

“They are the ones who maintain our roads and parks and provide the law enforcement officers and first responders who serve our visitors as well as our” local residents, he said.

Mayors have long called for the cap to be removed so the counties can pay for services used by tourists while they’re on the islands.

“The gesture is not only long overdue, but should be viewed as a better long-term investment in our counties and in our No. 1 industry,” Souki said.

House and Senate lawmakers, draped in lei that filled the chamber floors with scents of fresh flowers, used the start of session to welcome each other back to the Capitol and give a sneak peek at the issues they’ll consider between now and May.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. provided testimony Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and at a hearing of the House Finance Committee.

 The mayor opened his remarks with a snapshot of Kauai’s continued economic recovery that included a significant increase in film production, a rise in single-family home and condominium sales, a bump in visitor arrivals and a reduction in unemployment.

 Despite efforts to reduce operating costs while raising taxes and fees, the mayor noted that the county still faces challenges, particularly with fixed cost increases such as payroll.

The mayor also touched upon the 2014 Kauai County Legislative Package and the Hawaii Council of Mayors’ proposal regarding the state’s general excise tax.

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