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August 1999

Hawaii Election Project Hires Representative Brian Schatz (Toni Worst)
Orientation Meeting for New Members
President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
Picture Gallery (Carol Bain)
U.S. Trade Policy (Toni Worst)
City Council Acts on Tax Measures (Astrid Monson)
Hawaii Elections Project (Brian Schatz)
Welcome! (Mary Jo Olson)
Position Available (Toni Worst)
Action Alert - Patient's Bill of Rights (Grace Furukawa)

City Council Acts on Tax Measures

Oahu's property tax rate was increased on residential and most other classifications of property at the June 9 meeting of the Honolulu City Council by a 5 to 4 vote. The Council raised the rates in order to maintain the present level of tax revenue in spite of declining property assessments. On average, it was alleged, the actual amount of tax payable would not increase. The rate increase was opposed by Council members Hanneman, Felix, Kim and Mirikitani.

At the same meeting the Council approved a seven-year property tax exemption for new business and resort construction, reconstruction, and improvements, arguing that this would stimulate employment. This was also approved 5 to 4, with Hanneman, Felix, Kim and Holmes in opposition.

Arlene Ellis testified for the League as a member of our Tax Study Policy group and in accordance with League's long-standing position that taxes must be adequate to finance needed public facilities and services, and should be progressive rather than regressive -- i.e. falling more heavily on those best able to afford them.

Excerpts from Arlene's testimony follow:

"The League has always been leery of tax exemptions for a special group because that always means all others pay more.

"Some years ago we worked on then Budget Chair Bainum's Tax Advisory Group. We suggested that rather than raise property taxes across the board, a more progressive measure would be to change the home exemptions currently allowed so as to reduced them on a sliding scale on average or moderately assessed homes and eliminating them entirely on high priced properties.

Exemptions for homes appraised at low values could remain at present levels or even be increased. At that time exemptions were costing the City over $30 million a years. Reducing or eliminating them at selected levels would be progressive and would not harm lower-income families. Raising rates across the board would be regressive meaning the impact on lower-income families would be greater than it would be on even the most affluent of our home owners.

"We are not here to oppose raising property taxes -- we feel that the City's revenue has declined to levels too low to maintain needed services. What we are arguing about is what kind of a tax increase is needed and by whom it should be paid. Let us help those who need it the most."

On June 14, Council Budget Chair Rene Mansho and former Budget Chair Duke Bainum announced that they wanted to review the whole property tax structure, and that they felt the exemptions should be based on need, not age as at present. Bainum pointed out that a 55-year old taxpayer living in a very expensive house did not need a tax exemption. The LWV has been asked to participate in this effort.

Astrid Monson

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