On Nov. 6, Election Day, voters will be asked whether the state constitution should be amended. In Reader Feedback, Lisa Morrison, vice president of the Maui Chapter of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, makes the case to vote Yes and support the constitutional amendment. Kelly King, a Maui County councilmember, and Randall Roth, a professor at the UH Manoa law school, write why they think voters should say No.
The ballot question will read: “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?” There are notable arguments on both sides of the issue. What will you vote? Comment on Facebook, MauiTime.com, or to Editor@mauitime.com to contribute to the conversation!
Supports Constitutional Amendment
by Lisa Morrison
Hawaii voters have to decide whether or not they truly support public education. If you do, mahalo, I look forward to your YES vote on the constitutional amendment, and please make sure to vote. If you don’t support public education, you may now stop reading. My concern is those who think you fully support public education but can’t believe it means more money (and potentially your own money!).
We’re in a funding crisis for public education in Hawai‘i. Comparisons that put us above average for per-pupil spending don’t consider the cost of living and funding schools here. When that is factored in, we fall to 45th in the nation. You can’t overcome that unless you put more money into the system.
Private schools understand that, so they spend 2-3 times as much on students. I am the parent of a public school student, and you’re not going to convince me that private school children deserve small classes, comfortable classrooms, and qualified teachers, while mine somehow does not.
The Maui County Council wants us to believe the Department of Education is hiding all the money we need and we just have to find it with a giant audit and send it down to the schools. Cutting administration is a politically expedient solution and may sound enticing, but Hawai‘i is already 48th in the nation for per-pupil spending on state administration. Even if you eliminated the entire DOE state and complex area administration (not exactly practical) you yield only one-quarter of the funding needed to bring transformative change to our public schools.
The Affordable Hawaii Coalition wants us to believe that taxing investment property will lead to armageddon. Nevermind that other states do this successfully, with property taxes that fund county services AND public schools. They also want you to believe everyone will pay more, even though Hawai‘i legislators have gone on record to say there is no intention to risk that. The word “investment” is specific, or else it wouldn’t be needed. I’ve heard misleading statements that I would be taxed on the home I own and live in. That’s just not true.
However, I am going to let you in on a little secret that really scares the opposition: I would be happy to contribute part of my property tax dollars to public education in Hawai‘i. Our keiki deserve quality schools, and I am willing to invest in the future of our state.
Lisa Morrison is the parent of a child at Kula Kaiapuni O Maui at Pa‘ia Elementary School, a teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului, and vice president of the Maui Chapter of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Opposes Constitutional Amendment
by Kelly King and Randall Roth
The proposed new state tax on investment real property has been described by supporters as applicable only to out-of-state millionaires and developers, as posing no threat to the counties, and as being necessary to properly fund our public schools.
As written, this proposed constitutional amendment would empower the legislature to define investment real property to include every apartment building, every farm, every small business, or even personal residences. There is no limit on the tax rate, and no thresholds to protect the owners of properties worth less than a million dollars.
It also concerns us that this new tax would impact owners of businesses and rental properties who would likely shift the burden to consumers by increasing the price of essential goods and services, and raising rents.
The proposal also adversely impacts Hawai‘i’s counties as real property taxes are the counties’ primary and largest source of revenue to fund county programs. The counties must accommodate rising expenses such as salary increases for all employee bargaining units, which are firm obligations. The legislature should accept the responsibility and appropriately fund education without causing financial challenges for counties. Authorizing the state to impose property taxes also would set in motion a perverse dynamic in which county officials would end up taking the heat for decisions made by O‘ahu-centric legislators, and Maui County’s excellent bond rating would likely be negatively affected.
There also is the question of whether public education is as severely underfunded as proponents of the new tax contend. The Maui County Council recently passed a resolution urging the state to do a full financial audit of the Department of Education (DOE) as Hawaii spent $13,748 per pupil for operations alone in 2015-2016 (the most recent school year for which national comparisons can be made), 17% above the national average.
The truth is that significant improvement in education will come when the existing top-down,
bureaucratic DOE is transformed into a schools-centered system in which more money gets to the schools and the members of each school community can adjust it to the needs of their students.
For these reasons, we respectfully suggest voting “No” on the proposed new tax.
Kelly Takaya King is a resident of South Maui and serves as the district’s Maui County councilmember. She previously held the elected Maui District seat on the State Board of Education from 1994-98 and has served on the School Community-Based Management Council for Maui
High School. Randall Roth is a professor emeritus of law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, and co-founder of the Education Institute of Hawaii. Previously he contributed to and edited The Price of Paradise book, and, along with Judge Samuel P. King, wrote Broken Trust:
Greed, Mismanagement & Political Manipulation at America’s Largest Charitable Trust.