HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Education Department and teachers are now backing another controversial idea to raise money for public schools.
A new proposal being considered by lawmakers would raise the statewide general excise tax (the tax consumers pay on just about everything in the islands) half a percent — from 4 percent to 4.5 percent.
"All this would do is cost a half penny per dollar," said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "Are you willing to give a half penny in order to make sure children have a good education? It should be 'yes' for everyone."
The half-percent increase would generate at least $200 million for the Department of Education, and at least $50 million for the University of Hawaii.
Rosenlee says it would be a dedicated funding source for education to address the backlog of maintenance projects at schools and help recruit and retain teachers.
"The rate of teachers leaving for the mainland has increased by over 70 percent in the last five or six years," Rosenlee said.
DOE officials say they support the idea as long as it adds funding to their budget and other sources of money aren't taken away.
But on top of the Oahu rail tax and other county surcharges, opponents say it all adds up.
"Raising the general excise tax is not the way to go," said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. "It's going to have an impact on everybody."
Yamaki says raising the GET would furhter increase the cost of living and businesses will be forced to charge customers more to make up the tax.
"Anything that you buy whether it's food, medication, school supplies for your children, clothing. When you go to the store, you're gonna ask why do these things cost so much more," Yamaki said.
Some residents agree that education is a good investment.
"Our schools need to be better funded," said Manoa resident Misha Kassel. "The gap between private schools and public schools is too great."
Others argue raising taxes shouldn't be the solution for everything.
“It’s like every time we have to pay for something, they want to raise taxes,” said Wahiawa resident Collette Wilhelm. “It’s hard enough to live in Hawaii as it is.”
In October, the Hawaii Supreme Court struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have raised investment property taxes to fund public schools.