November ballot box issue – paying for public education

The legislature and the public has been playing a game of “whack a mole” for a long, long time, effectively dodging the question and responsibility of properly funding Hawaii’s public education system. They say no to increasing the General Excise Tax (GET), they say no to raising tourist taxes (except for rail of course), they say no to taxing sugar drinks, and they say no to legalizing and taxing cannabis. In the past they have said no to taxing retirement income and casino gambling and/or a lottery (all bad ideas IMHO) have never gotten off the ground.

Whack the mole, pass the buck, and kick the can down the road is how our state has dealt with funding public education, and we all should be a little ashamed of ourselves for letting that happen.

Hawaii teachers are the lowest paid in the country, when the cost of living in Hawaii is factored in. To attract and retain qualified teachers they must be paid properly, and currently that is not the case. According to the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) each year over 1,000 teacher positions remain vacant, and positions are often filled by uncertified and unqualified long-term substitutes. In addition to low teacher pay, small class sizes which have been proven to increase student learning also require a public investment. The list of funding needs for public education is long, and the neglect by the legislature to adequately funding those needs extends even longer.

Somebody has to pay for underfunding our public education system. Right now the teachers and students are effectively paying this cost through low wages and crowded classrooms, and they have been for years.

But the public will soon be given a chance to reverse the neglectful trend.

On November 6, 2018, Hawaii voters will be asked, “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”

My vote will be a strong yes.

If approved by the voters this change to the Hawaii Constitution will allow the State legislature to then pass legislation essentially adding an “education tax or surcharge” on investment real estate. Investment real estate is generally defined as real estate that is not owner occupied. The enabling legislation, will clarify the definition and establish which properties will be subject to the new surcharge/tax and how much that tax will be.

The legislative intent as expressed in the public record, is to levy the surcharge on luxury homes and condominiums that are used as second homes, vacation rentals and or simply sit vacant as investment properties.

As someone who has served at both the county and the state level, I know how difficult politically it is to raise taxes. I also know that there are numerous exemptions and other mechanisms that can and will be put into place to protect local families and the local rental market. The political pressure on the legislature to do so will be tremendous, of that you can be sure.

This conversation has been happening now for many years. There is no right way to raise taxes that pleases everyone, so the result is nothing happens.

Few if any legislators nor members of the public who are familiar with the issue will say that Hawaii’s teachers are paid adequately. Most will agree also that small class size is important and that our students deserve much more than they are getting. These same individuals will agree that to achieve these goals requires an additional investment in our public education system.

But at this point is where the conversation historically collapses. No one it seems wants to pay for it. Instead, we force our teachers to subsidize our education system by working for substandard wages, and our students and community as a whole pays the societal costs.

Any tax increase will gore someone’s ox, and thus all increases are always opposed (except for rail).

For those whose response is “Someone else should pay,” I ask “Who?”

The issue is complex and yet it is not. To attract and retain qualified teachers they must be paid properly, and currently that is not the case. Small class sizes have been proven to increase student learning and this also costs money. No amount of streamlining or decentralization or other rearranging of the deck chairs will achieve these objectives.

This is a crazy cycle of neglect, with real consequences and it must stop.

The constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this coming November, allows the public to choose to increase the funding for public education via a surcharge on investment properties, or the public can choose to do nothing and just keep whacking the mole.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and is the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. Steve Martin May 23, 2018 8:11 am Reply

    Gary tell the legislators to wake up. The continuing track record of money from legalized marijuana is spueling millions into the coffers of the states governments. You can bet that it will be a never ending income that will make it so we don’t have to raise other taxes in order to pay teachers a decent wage to educate our children. I will vote no on surcharge for any real estate. If we don’t it will cause more problems for people to own property . It’s hard enough to get by now. If your message doesn’t work it’s time to you use our best tool the voting booth.

  2. Charlie Chimknee May 23, 2018 8:24 am Reply

    Aloha Mr. Hooser,

    Since I’m unable to speak to the teachers’ pay dilemma and taxes; may I speak to concern over the curricula itself taught at Kaua’i schools.

    It seems that our schools for the most part are not college preparatory (is that correct?) on Kauai.

    Where can we find the elementary, middle, and high school curricula to see what our youth are being taught?

    Do you think the current curricula is appropriate for the jobs waiting our youth on Kauai after high school graduation.

    Are there courses now that are a waste of time, and would new courses be of greater benefit to the students.

    Are these low paid teachers qualified to teach better qualified courses preparing the students for the real world on Kauai.

    Since there is increased health deterioration on Kauai for all ages under 70 years, especially with obesity and Pre and Existíng diabetes leading to heart and vascular diseases as well as some cancers, it seems that a thorough eduction in the Basic Health Sciences is an idea whose time has come? Kindergarten through high school daily class in health and life subjects would not only improve the future health of our next generations but also promote local practitioners in the field of health.

    The study of ones own body is more interesting for some than history and math, and may produce better outcomes. Healthier young parents leads to healthier babies. Healthier people leads to less need for disease care, and more citizen productivity, and less work days missed due to illness.

    The only possible people against this would be idle Disease Care workers and the medical drug cartel that manufactures the medicines that would be less needed.

    If each person had the choice of whether or not to need drugs / medicines what is the obvious choice. It is an inborn, innate, intelligent decision to prefer wellness over illness. Education facilitates the success of being healthy.

    The Basic Health Sciences can be configured and taught at the appropriate level for kindergarten through high school, year after year adding on complexity and accumulation of knowledge to make each graduate an expert of their own body and maintaining their health and not requiring drugs and surgery outside of accidental trauma.

    What a noble self driven goal…HEALTH instead of Disease.

    Education can do that…!

    Gary would you promote that? We need people like you back in the legislature.



  3. steve ball May 23, 2018 9:46 am Reply

    Sounds so easy and too good to be true. Gore the “other guy”, the rich off island investment property owner. He is off island so he can’t even vote. But the legislatures thirst for tax dollars is unquenchable and I don’t share your blind faith that the tax will not be expanded to other properties. Once the door is opened the tax can be increased each year and applied to other properties. Happens all the time.

  4. Wayne Vince May 23, 2018 3:54 pm Reply

    Most of those “off island” owners rent to tourists. Those owners will simply pass on the added tax to their tourist renters. That means the tourists will have less money to spend. Some may even decide not to come at all. Hate tourists or not, they pump the money that pays for our jobs. Less money spent means less employment and less in our pockets.

  5. manawai May 24, 2018 7:05 am Reply

    Hooser desperately attempting to remain relevant.

  6. WestKauai May 24, 2018 6:23 pm Reply

    It appears that Hooser has never seen a tax he didn’t like. That said, the fact remains that current expenditures per student are among the highest in the nation. Most of those funds are for the inflated, ineffective Department of Education administrators, consultants, and such. Less than half of the funds actually reach the classroom level. Adding another revenue stream will have little effect, as the bureaucracy will simply expand.

  7. John Zwiebel May 24, 2018 9:39 pm Reply

    Well, no one wants to pay for it. Can’t say that I blame you. The question is then, where does the money come from?

    Where has the money been been going over the last 50 years? To those who already have most of the money. If you don’t recognize the nature of wealth distribution, then, of course, you can only look at yourself and imagine you are a member of the Oligarchy. You don’t want to pay more in taxes so you defend them. the Oligarchs — as Trump gives them an even greater tax break, and Fox News convinces you that all those with nothing want to take everything you own — as if they have the capacity to do anything to actually harm you.

    The truth is, it is the Oligarch who is stealing your life savings. It is the Oligarch, who has recruited you to his side by telling you that he’s rich so if you can be just like him, you’ll be rich too. And so you go to Trump University and have a bunch of no-nothing syncopates tell you to imitate Trump, a fraud, a crook, a huckster — with you as the victim.

    OK don’t raise taxes and let the Oligarchs continue to accumulate all the wealth and deny global warming and insist on the need to “protect America” from some camel herder on the other side of the world. Isn’t it amazing that that camel herder threatens you and you can’t even identify who he is.

  8. Puravida Kauai May 26, 2018 4:42 am Reply

    Easy to support tax hikes when you’re sitting on the sideline. You didn’t support a single tax increase when you sat on Council. Talk about two-faced. Before throwing more money at this problem, should the pubic see an audit of the DOE? It’s one thing to pay more to attract highly qualified teachers, but it’s completely another thing to give raises to DOE bureaucrats and under-qualified existing teachers. I’m also concerned giving the State the authority to add a property tax surcharge without limits on what they can add is an ill-conceived idea. Much like the TAT, the State will turn this inch into a mile and hijack the County’s chief source of revenues. There’s a lot more at stake than simply finding a new source of revenue for the school system. Maybe another Con-Con is in order if this constitutional amendment passes.

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