Supreme Court hears oral arguments on controversial constitutional amendment question

The attorney general made a startling admission about the surcharge.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments on controversial constitutional amendment question

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Attorney General Russell Suzuki conceded Thursday that a controversial constitutional amendment to raise investment property taxes for education could lead to higher taxes for residential homeowners in the future.

Suzuki made that startling admission when he was questioned by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

Recktenwald asked, “You would concede that the Legislature could impose a surcharge on residential real property that’s owner occupied?”

Suzuki responded, “I would say that’s a possibility, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

Suzuki said it’s unlikely because of political opposition, but that technically it could happen.

But the attorney general’s admission is a huge boost to the ballot measure’s critics, which include: all four counties, business groups and four past governors, who’ve launched a media blitz to get voters to turn it down.

In those ads, they argue that local residents' property taxes would skyrocket.

“It’s a blank check for raising taxes,” former Gov. Ben Cayetano said in the ads.

The ad also features former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who said, “You’re going to be taxed twice, once by the city, and once by the state."

Opponents want the High Court to toss the ballot measure because it’s vague and misleading.

But proponents said there are plenty of safeguards and legislation enabling the tax will exempt owner occupants.

“The bill we will be putting up will be going after investment properties over a $1 million. We will make sure it cannot be supplanted. We will put in language in there," said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

During today’s oral arguments, Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna raised concerns whether all of the proceeds from the tax will go to education.

McKenna asked, “Couldn’t these funds be used to substitute for general fund funding and the Legislature is actually not required to increase public education funding, correct?”

To which Suzuki replied, “The appropriation powers are with the Legislature. So that is correct."

The court took the matter under advisement and will likely issue a ruling in the next few days.

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