Watching the Maui County Council interact with Mayor Alan Arakawa these days, sometimes you wonder if they would ever agree anything, including the time of sunset or the number of days left before the 2014 election. So it was actually nice over the weekend to see that members of the council who’ve largely disagreed with the Arakawa Administration for the last two years–over such matters as the demolition of the old Wailuku Post Office and the mayor’s recent proposed property tax rate increases–have found common ground.
I’m speaking of course about the state Legislature’s last-minute vote to restore a small portion of the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) monies to Hawaii’s counties. Before 2010, each of the state’s counties received about 44.8 percent of the tax revenues levied on hotel rooms. But after that year, the state–hobbled by massive budget problems and huge unfunded pension obligations–grabbed up a huge portion of that money, reducing the County of Maui’s take to just 22.8 percent.
This year, the County of Maui–as well as Kauai and Hawaii–had hoped to get its share returned to the old 44.8 percentage. But that didn’t even come close to happening, though the Legislature did vote to kick back an additional $20 million to the counties over the next two years.
“Personally, the news about the TAT was highly disappointing to me,” Arakawa said in a press release an assistant sent out on Apr. 26. “My staff and I have had dozens of face-to-face meetings with state legislators here and on Oahu, even before the start of the session, to lobby our position. These really are county monies and should go towards paying for the wear and tear our islands endure when you host millions of visitors every year. This amount is below even the minimum that we thought we would get. The other county mayors and I all strongly supported removing the cap completely and still do.”
According to the Apr. 26 Maui News, Councilman Mike White–perhaps Arakawa’s greatest adversary on the council–was in agreement. “It’s very disappointing because the state, over the last two years, has collected approximately $250 million more than they would have had the changes not been made to the calculations,” White’s quoted as saying. “The impact directly to Maui is that we’ve received $28 million less than we would have over the past two years.”
Still, the Legislature’s tiny TAT concession might hold good news for the county after all.
“Nevertheless, I believe that with these extra TAT monies, along with some creative cuts from the council, we should be able to eliminate any need for a property tax increase for fiscal year 2015,” Arakawa said in his Apr. 26 email. “We have made some informal suggestions to the council as to which projects should be delayed in order to find the money they need to do this.”
Of course, that would require the council and mayor to do more than simply agree that the state is being miserly with their money–they’d actually have to work together, which would be something to see.
Photo of piggy bank: Wikimedia Commons