Vehicle weight tax producing cash for county

LIHUE — The vehicle weight tax has only increased twice on Kauai since it was imposed in 1978, but it’s been steadily producing money for the county.

When the tax was first passed, it taxed three-quarters of a cent, or $0.0075, per pound for passenger vehicles and 2 cents for commercial vehicles, said Yvette Sahut, legislative assistant for Kauai County.

In 2001, the tax was increased to one and one quarter of a cent, or $0.0125.

More than a decade later, in 2014, the Kauai Council voted to approve a bill, No. 2543, to increase the tax by another three-quarters of a cent. That raised the vehicle weight tax to two cents, where it remains today.

The money generated from the vehicle weight tax goes to the highway fund, which is used to fund the bus system and road repair projects, Sahut said.

When the vehicle weight tax was increased three-quarters of a cent for passenger vehicles and a half-cent for commercial vehicles in 2014, it was estimated to generate $1.2 million for the highway fund, according to a memo from the mayor’s office.

On March 28, 2014, the Kauai Council voted 5-1 in favor of the increase. Council members Mason Chock, Gary Hooser, JoAnn Yukimura, Tim Bynum and Jay Furfaro voted for it. Councilman Ross Kagawa was the dissenting vote. Council chair Mel Rapozo was excused from voting that day.

Road beautification projects aren’t his priority, Kagawa said.

“They can be done when the economy gets healthy,” he said. “You don’t do bells and whistles when you’re broke.”

In fiscal year 2014, about $4.2 million was collected from the vehicle weight tax.

The money, which was budgeted in the FY 2014-2015 operating budget, went to the operational costs for the Kauai Bus system and the Roads Division of Public Works, the memo said.

The funds generated by the vehicle weight tax have steadily since 2010, according to financial documents.

In the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year, the vehicle weight tax generated about $3.8 million. In FY 2012, the tax brought in just over $4 million. FY 2015 saw $5.5 million in revenue generated by vehicle weight taxes, according to Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports.

Recently, the subject of vehicle weight tax was re-visited by the council when Yukimura introduced a bill to increase the tax by a cent.

The bill, No. 2631, proposed raising the tax for passenger vehicles to 3 cents and 5 cents for commercial vehicles.

The tax increase was introduced as a way to pay for the $100 million worth of backlogged road repairs and as an alternative to increasing the General Excise Tax.

On May 4, the council voted 4-3 to kill the bill.

The bill can be re-written and introduced again, but Kagawa believes that would be a waste of time.

“There’s not enough votes (to support it),” he said. “When new people come on the council in November, maybe it has a chance. But there’s no chance in this council.”

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