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HOOSER: Good night and good riddance

It feels like the first day of a new year, in a policy and politics sense.

The Hawai‘i legislative session is over and there’s no more “waiting to exhale”. The constant vigilance required to monitor 3,000 or more bills can be put to bed.

Well, almost put to bed. The several hundred that passed through the sausage grinder must now be reviewed closely and comments sent over to the Governor.

Measures that have passed include the good, the mediocre, the bad, and the very bad.

Supporting our brothers and sisters on Maui to the tune of almost $1 billion seems on the surface to be a very good thing. The devil’s in the details and implementation, but for now this looks like a win.

The most obvious very bad bill is Senate Bill 3202 which takes away the Kaua‘i Planning Commission authority to approve subdivisions in urban districts and gives this power to a single person, the Kaua‘i planning director.

SB3202 also mandates increasing the density of every single residential community in the state of Hawai‘i, whether that community wants that increase or not.

Probably the most significant and positive change in “pure policy” (no direct impact on the state budget) was SB2919, which has already been signed into law and is now Act 017.

Act 017 grants each County the authority to regulate and phase out certain short-term vacation rentals that might otherwise be rented long-term to local residents.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen has already introduced a bill that now goes before the Maui County Council intending to convert more than half of Maui’s current vacation rental inventory to long-term rentals by 2026.

If passed by Maui County, this would gradually create approximately 7,000 new long-term rentals for local residents with virtually zero need for increased construction or infrastructure.

Advocates of SB2919 reminded law-makers in their testimony over and over again, that those short-term vacation rentals were originally approved based on plans indicating they would be homes for local residents, not as AirB&B short-term rentals located in otherwise residential areas and projects.

The obvious question for Kaua‘i residents is, “Will our Council and Mayor follow Maui County and also take this bold step to increase the Kaua‘i inventory of affordable housing?”

The next most obvious good bill (kinda good for everybody but very good as in super good for the wealthiest tax payers in the islands) is House Bill 2404.

There’s certainly no shortage of legislators boasting about it being the largest tax cut in state history. But of course, most are neglecting to tell you the whole story.

Mahalo to Representative Amy Perruso who was brave enough to pull back the curtain and speak the truth about this much heralded “historic tax cut”.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, this will cost state government $656 million in revenue with 42 percent of the benefits going to the top 20 percent of earners.

Translation: The state of Hawai‘i will lose $656 million in revenue. This means schools, parks, affordable housing, mental health care, coastline and environmental protection, and so much more, will do without that same $656 million.

Unfortunately the Legislature did not limit or target the tax cuts to middle and low income families who truly need the support. They chose instead to give high-income earners the equivalent of $275,000,000 in tax revenue that’s now no longer available for essential services.

So yes, we should be thankful the 2024 legislative session is over, and thankful for the good and positive accomplishments that did occur.

Most of all we should be thankful there’s a new year before us The primary election of Aug. 10 is right around the corner, and with it comes an opportunity to make the 2025 session a genuinely historic one.

Let’s do this.

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Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island

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