Something great happened during Wednesday’s committee meeting at the Historic County Building.
Four councilmen, Gary Hooser, Ross Kagawa, Mel Rapozo and KipuKai Kuali’i, voted to kill a proposed bill to increase the General Exercise Tax by a quarter of a percent to fund improvements to public transportation, or more specifically, $100 million worth of backlogged road repairs.
They made the right decision. And when this matter comes before the County Council for a final decision, we urge those four to stay the course and do away with any proposals to raise the GET.
Kuali‘i put it well: “The GET is a regressive tax that will hit our struggling families the most. It should never happen.”
Certainly, we can all agree that county roads and bridges are in need of improvements. Anyone who drives a vehicle on Kauai can attest to the rough ride at certain locations around the island. And a good transportation system is critical to an economy. Just ask Mark Perriello, chamber president, who spoke of the need to invest in Kauai’s transportation infrastructure as a key reason to support the GET increase.
But a plan to raise taxes to fix our roads should be the last solution, not the first. As others have said, the GET tax is a regressive tax — one that’s added to pretty much anything you buy, including groceries — that’s going to impact lower-income people more than the middle class, and will have little impact on those with plenty of money. A tax that takes a bigger toll on those with the least is not the right move to improve county roads.
We like some of the other ideas mentioned during the committee meeting. Such as preparing a charter amendment that would allow Kauai residents to vote on where the funding for the road repair projects will come from; transferring money from the general fund to the highway fund, which will then go to repairing roads, and imposing taxes on the visitor industry. Or, as Hooser proposed, how about splitting the road work costs between budget cuts and finding other sources of revenue.
While spending cuts are never popular, the county budget should be scrutinized for unnecessary spending. With a budget approaching $190 million, certainly there are areas where spending could be reduced.
The county budget and county spending has climbed steadily over the years. It would be nice to see the county hold the line on the budget and spending. Budget cuts are difficult to make but sometimes, necessary, rather than increasing taxes.
The mayor pointed out the current proposed budget was balanced without raising property taxes. But if taxes are raised in other ways, such as the GET or the vehicle weight tax or the gasoline tax, to fund county public transportation programs, it’s still a burden on taxpayers.
We should point out that the state Legislature opened the door for the proposed GET increase when it granted counties the right to establish a one-half percent surcharge on the GET. Counties have until July 1 to enact an ordinance that would increase the tax from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2027. So, the county was only looking at what the Legislature made available to it.
We’re glad to see the county’s elected leaders are turning away from a tax increase and instead looking for other answers.