HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions rose at a Windward Oahu meeting held to discuss a controversial road usage tax Wednesday night.
The state transportation department is considering taxing drivers by the mile, rather than by the gallon.
Right now, the state gets about 16 cents per gallon of gas. But officials are worried that as more cars go electric, the revenue won’t be able to keep up with demand to fix Hawaii’s roads.
“The current fuel tax system is becoming less and less fair as those who own older, less efficient cars pay more per mile than those able to purchase newer high efficiency or alternative fuel vehicles. Under a road usage charge system all vehicles would pay the same amount per mile driven,” Deputy Director of the HDOT Highways Division Ed Sniffen said.
At a public meeting at Castle High School Wednesday night, Marshall Ando of the Hawaii Department of Transportation said, “We only have about a third of the funds to support the program, to support the roadways.”
Many of the more than two dozen Windward Oahu residents were against the idea.
"My husband and I own an electric vehicle and a hybrid. There aren't that many of us. We feel like we're going to be punished," one woman testified.
"We pay almost one thousand dollars for our cars together. Why can't that money pay for repairing the roads?" another person said.
Others were concerned that taxing drivers per mile would increase the cost of living, or that it would be an invasion of privacy.
However, some residents offered other suggestions of bringing in revenue.
"Let's look out of the box, let's look at cannabis, let's look at lotteries. Let's look at other things other than just taxing us," one man suggested.
The state held its first online meeting Thursday night with officials trying to explain how a ‘Road Usage Charge’ works and encouraged questions.
At previous community meetings across the state, residents strongly opposed the proposal, saying it would be unfair to drivers who live far away from their jobs or other areas they frequent.
Tax Foundation of Hawaii President Tom Yamachika says drivers need to take the time to understand the new proposal.
“They need to I think do a better job at explaining what they do with our taxpayer money so the public has a good chance to judge what they’re doing, whether their money is being spent wisely,” said Yamachika. “I think a lot is going to have to do with the confidence that the public has in the government."
State officials have conducted 12 of 14 meetings on islands throughout the state. Another meeting is also planned for Hilo on May 9.
Questions and comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org during the meeting.