Why Kauai needs an excise tax

The need for additional transportation monies on Kauai is huge. To meet this need Bill 2610, Draft 1 would establish a ¼ percent GET tax, or 25 cents for every $100 of purchases as the best way for the county to meet its responsibilities. While no one WANTS more taxes, the county cannot afford further delay because the NEED to address our problems is urgent. We must malama (take care of) our community resources.

The county has a $100 million backlog of county road repair that gets more expensive the longer we delay. The county’s plan for bus expansion requires substantial investment, too, if we want to reduce congestion (40 people in a bus vs. 40 people, one in each of 40 cars); significantly reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas production; lower household transportation costs and therefore, the cost of living provide an affordable transportation alternative for those who cannot, or cannot afford to, drive. By facilitating the free flow of goods and services, transit expansion will boost the economy.

My proposal to increase gasoline and vehicle weight taxes was recently voted down by the County Council. Other than raising real property taxes, the GET is the only way the county can get additional revenues now. The county does not have the power to tax visitor accommodations or rental cars, and the state Legislature recently made it clear that no additional revenue sharing of TAT monies will be forthcoming this year.

While we can and should continue to demand our fair share of TAT monies, we cannot expect visitors to pay for all or most of our needs, and we should not just sit back complaining while our roads continue to deteriorate. Perhaps, if we show our willingness to pay for some of our costs by levying the GET, the state Legislature would be more willing to share additional TAT revenues with the counties.

Some say that we can fund our transportation needs by cutting costs. However, after two full days of budget decision-making on the mayor’s proposed FY17 $190 million operating budget and $17 million capital improvements budget, the council’s careful line-by-line examination resulted in only $355,000 in cuts, less than 1 percent of the total operating budget. (This is because the administration over the last 4 years has initiated substantial belt-tightening and cost controls, and the remaining potential cuts will require systemic changes to materialize more cost reductions; for example, changes to the collective bargaining system.)

Because the tax is not effective till January 2018, and under the present bill draft can be used for any kind of land transportation needs, how we use the excise tax monies can be decided in future budget processes. We can even reduce the excise tax if we get a greater share of TAT or find we can cut costs elsewhere. But under state law, we must exercise the option by July 1 of this year and establish the tax now or lose the possibility. Yes, we can go back to the Legislature to ask them to give us the option again, but why would they give us a second chance when we didn’t have the courage and commitment to exercise the option the first time?

If you are willing to pay for better roads, expanded bus service and reduced congestion, please let your elected leaders know you support Bill 2610. Either come to the County Council meeting to testify this Wednesday at the Historic County Building or email testimony ahead of time to CouncilTestimony@kauai.gov. A democracy works best when people participate. If you have any questions, please call me at (808) 652-3988 or email me at jyukimura@kauai.gov.

The full text of Bill 2610, Draft 1 is at http://kauai.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1780&meta_id=101456

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JoAnn Yukimura is a Kauai County Councilmember and chair of the Council’s Housing and Transportation Committee.

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