Counties must get bigger part of tourist tax
By Marsha Joyner
The Honolulu Advertiser this week noted: "The state collected $324.9 million in taxes in March, raising the tax take for the first nine months of the current fiscal year to $3.19 billion, a 10.6 percent increase over the same period of the previous fiscal year."
As for individual income tax collections, they rose 8.5 percent over the nine-month period to $1 billion after $86.2 million was tabulated in March.
The $18.6 million collected in March through the transient accommodations tax caused the year-to-date figure to swell by 9.3 percent to $161.1 million. Yet, the City & County gets only about $44 million.
Until we look at raising the transient accommodations tax to the level of other major tourist destinations and earmark the increase for the counties to relieve some of the burden of the property tax payer, taxing will not be fair. At present the property taxes support the infrastructure that supports the tourists.
The introduction and raising of taxes are invariably accompanied with extensive misinformation and half-truths to sway taxpayers. This makes it difficult for an individual to appreciate the nature of taxation and its consequences.
When we constantly see letters to the editor and editorials demanding something be done about the taxes, at what time do we realize we have reached "revolt" stages?
Throughout history, that's what revolutions have been launched over. Taxes have determined the course of history in ways most of us don't recognize. Consider ancient Egypt. The conflict between the taxpayers and the tax assessors determined much of its history, according to Charles Adams. Not only that, the Rosetta Stone was a tax document. Biblical Israel split after Solomon's death because his son refused to cut taxes. Taxes led to Rome's rise and fall. William Tell shot the apple off his son's head as punishment for tax resistance. Of course, there was the tax revolt in the American Colonies, and it was taxes, not slavery, that caused the American Civil War.
Real property taxes impose an unfair burden upon homeowners and renters and, in many cases, upon those who can least afford it. The counties have sought and continue to seek more sources of revenue from the state.
The counties' and the state's funding problems are exacerbated by recent federal budgetary cutbacks in domestic programs.
A record 7.4 million people visited Hawai'i last year. The visitors come to soak up the sun and surf while gawking at the "Hawaiians" as if they were a commodity. In the meantime, we residents pay the tab. Can we afford another Waikiki?
Each county has to pay for its police department, which provides security for the visitors. Each county must pay for fire departments, EMS and lifeguards to fish out stranded tourists from the waves. Each county must pay for road maintenance on streets those 35,500 daily rental cars traverse. Each county must pay to keep its parks the tourists use in excellent condition. The City & County must pay for the bus that runs every eight minutes from Ala Moana Center to Waikiki beaches and hotels. A bus runs every 40 minutes to my neighborhood, and we are asked to pay a tax increase to help subsidize the bus.
Speaking of Ala Moana Center, did you know that more people visit there daily than go to Disneyland? Ala Moana is not locally owned. Waikele is not locally owned. In fact, most of the major shopping centers are not locally owned. So who is driving the bus? Why are our property taxes paying for the infrastructure?
City Councilman Todd Apo said tourism is a delicate industry, which belies that the hotels made incredible profits in 2005. They are booked 12 months a year. Are they more delicate than our residents?
How much longer can we sustain this? Hawai'i has become a high-end luxury destination, yet its people are hurting.
In 1967 before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published a prophetic book: "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" The theme was justice for all, but there was a warning that unless we all worked together to ensure economic justice for all, then we beckon chaos rather than building community.
Dr. King said it is not enough to throw coins at a beggar. The edifice that created the beggar in the first place must be reconstructed.
Marsha Joyner is a member of Democrats for Property Tax Fairness. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.