Lawmakers debate controversial tax increases

Lawmakers debate controversial tax increases

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Several bills before lawmakers would increase taxes, but none of them are free of opposition.

Hawaii's public school teachers are urging lawmakers to support Senate Bill 2586, which would increase the state's general excise tax by 1 percent to finance reforms and improvements, including air conditioning classrooms, reducing class size and expanding arts education.

"We have some of the lowest test scores in the nation. We don't have teachers in our classrooms. Our buildings are falling down," said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "At some point, Hawaii has to be serious and say, 'Listen, this is not good for our state and this needs to change.'"

State Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head) agrees Hawaii's schools need to be improved, but doesn't think a tax hike is the answer.

"We gave the money to the DOE (Department of Education). We have to make sure that they're reined in and they use the money for what it's supposed to be used for."

Slom added that the state "can't pay for everything, even if it seems to be a worthwhile project."

Another measure calls for a 0.5 percent surcharge on the GET to assist long-term family caregivers. Senate Bill 2478 would provide $70 a day for up to 365 days to help those who care for the elderly or disabled at home.

Larry Nitz, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the measure is designed to be a safety net.

"Mom needs help and you have to leave the labor force, whether you cut your hours short, you imperil your retirement, or you leave the labor force hoping to come back later. There may not be a later," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2454 changes individual income tax rates. The two lowest brackets would be eliminated to help the poor, but the measure reinstates 9 percent, 10 percent and 11 percent individual income tax rates for the highest earners.

Tom Yamachika, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, called the measure a "Robin Hood bill."

"It wants to take more from the rich and give to the poor. That's what it's designed to do," he said.

The state Department of Taxation estimates that the annual revenue gain would be $155.6 million for fiscal year 2017, with a 5 percent annual increase.

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