Bottle fee could cut furloughs
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
Add this to the proposals on how to end public school furlough days: a 5-cent surcharge on bottles.
State Rep. John Mizuno, who will introduce a bill for the surcharge, said the additional bottle fee would generate millions of dollars to supplement other money from the hurricane relief or the rainy day funds.
Under the bill, 5 cents would be collected on all beverage containers purchased in the Islands.
The surcharge would be on top of the present 5-cent beverage deposit (and 1-cent container fee).
Unlike the 5-cent deposit, consumers couldn't get the 5-cent surcharge back.
But Mizuno said the surcharge would be in effect for only three years — enough time, he says, for the state's budget crisis to ease.
"It's time-sensitive," said Mizuno, D-30th (Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter), adding that he's expecting a "lukewarm to cold" response to the bill, since it's essentially a tax hike.
But, Mizuno said, something needs to be done soon.
"We have to be courageous in these most difficult times," he said.
Mizuno said he did not have figures on how much the bill could generate.
About 896 million beverage containers were sold in the Islands in fiscal year 2009, according to the state Health Department, which administers the bottle redemption program. A 5-cent surcharge on that many bottles would generate about $44.8 million, which could, in theory, cover at least eight furlough days.
Each furlough day saves the state about $5 million, the state Education Department has said.
State Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), who is chairman of the Senate Education and Housing Committee, said the bottle proposal is innovative and would be worth a closer look.
"If it can help cure students being out of school, we can entertain it," he said.
The bottle surcharge bill is the latest proposal on how to find the money to end public school teacher furloughs. Lawmakers are also considering increasing the general excise tax, and taxes on cigarettes or alcohol.
Meanwhile, the governor and teachers union continue to try to hammer out a deal on furloughs.