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HOOSER: Council votes down $4.5M in tax money

Councilmembers voted to keep TVR (transient vacation rental) tax rates lower and postpone new investments in affordable housing.

Words suitable for a family audience cannot express my reaction upon reading Guthrie Scrimgeour’s piece in Sunday’s TGI, which started out: “By a 4-3 vote, the County Council voted down a measure Friday that would have increased the tax rate on vacation rental units and used the funding for affordable housing.”

According to the article, Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro justified his opposition by saying, “It’s money that’s not necessarily needed at the time…When the county really needs the money, then we can increase the tax rates.”

Then I took the time to actually watch the council meeting and listen to the arguments made by the four councilmembers who spoke against raising $4.5 million for affordable housing and in favor of protecting the interests of tourists and their innkeepers.

It was appalling, really.

Councilmembers Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden and Billy DeCosta joined Chair Kaneshiro in refusing to support the additional funding for affordable housing, either mimicking his argument (we don’t really need the money) or talking in circles, grasping at straws only tangentially related to the core issue.

A majority of our councilmembers believe we don’t need the money?

What world are they living in?

Each and every affordable-housing project on the island has a waiting list. We have people sleeping in the bushes at the side of the road. Our homeless shelters are full.

I know personally people who are working full time and who live in their cars because they cannot find an affordable place to rent. They drive from beach park to beach park every night seeking a safe, quiet place to spend the night.

Transient vacation rentals are houses or condos that are operated as hotels. In addition to taking long-term rentals away from local residents, TVRs add to the overall burden of the tourism industry on county parks and roads.

Councilmember Luke Evslin proposed the measure, which would have generated $4.5 million in new revenue by increasing the TVR tax rate by $1 to $10.85 per $1,000 of taxable income, bringing it even with the rate for resorts and hotels. Armed with the facts, he obviously had done his homework, and did an excellent job articulating the need and justifying the ask.

Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i and Vice Chair Mason Chock were both passionate and articulate in their support as well.

TVRs on Kaua‘i should pay a property-tax rate equal to or even exceeding that of hotels — just like they do on Maui.

The Maui County Council recently approved their property-tax rates, setting the TVR rate on Maui at $11.85, slightly more than their hotel/resort rate of $11.75 (per $1,000 of value), and not one single Maui councilmember voted no.

Unfortunately, here on Kaua‘i, Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro along with Councilmembers Carvalho, Cowden and DeCosta, all said no.

We don’t need the money, they said. Maybe at some point in the future, we might need it, but for the moment we are fine, was the message justifying their votes.

We don’t need an additional $4.5 million that could have been used for affordable housing, homelessness, open-space acquisition, and other vital services — and paid for by tourists.

$4.5 million annually is what we are talking about.

$4.5 million annually that could leverage municipal-bond funding to pay for the infrastructure needed for thousands of new housing units.

$4.5 million annually that would have been paid for by people on vacation, who don’t live here, who choke our roads, beaches and trails daily, and whose very presence on our island drives up the costs and takes away much-needed housing for local residents.

I encourage all to watch the council meeting yourself and make up your own mind on this. Start at around 2:40. Check out their attitudes and listen closely to their words: https://tgilinks.com/3wlJZuC

Then, please contact the councilmembers directly and share your thoughts. You can use councilmembers@kauai.gov to reach all of them with one message, or send each one an individual note.

Please be courteous and professional.

Those four who voted against increasing the tax on TVRs and using the money for affordable housing:

• Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro, ajkaneshiro@kauai.gov;

• Councilmember Bernard Carvalho, bcarvalho@kauai.gov;

• Councilmember Felicia Cowden, fcowden@kauai.gov;

• Councilmember Bill DeCosta, bdecosta@kauai.gov;

Those three who voted in favor of increasing the tax on TVRs and using the money for affordable housing:

• Council Vice-Chair Mason Chock, mchock@kauai.gov;

• Councilmember Luke Evslin, levslin@kauai.gov;

• Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i, kkualii@kauai.gov.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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