Supreme Court throws out controversial constitutional amendment question

The question will be invalidated during the upcoming mid-term election, and votes won’t be counted.
Updated: Oct. 19, 2018 at 7:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday struck down a proposed constitutional amendment ballot item that would’ve raised investment property taxes for education, invalidating the question and preventing it from being voted upon during next month’s general election.

The ruling, issued late Friday afternoon, said that the proposed amendment — Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education? — did not comply with a state law that says ‘the language and meaning of the ballot question be clear and not misleading.’

“It is hereby ordered that the ballot question is declared invalid,” the ruling read. “The Chief Election Officer shall issue a public proclamation stating that the ballot question is invalid.”

Any votes for or against the measure on the general election ballot — which has already been printed — will not be counted and have no impact, the Supreme Court says.

“We’re thankful the Supreme Court ruled the way it did, because we felt the language was not properly informative of voters to allow them to make a well informed decision,” said Colbert Matsumoto, an opponent of the amendment with the Affordable Hawaii Coalition. “That was our concern, that they would make a choice based upon wrong assumption.”

Rep. Scott Saiki, the Speaker of the state House of Representatives and a supporter of the proposed amendment, disagreed with the basis upon which the court disallowed the public from voting on the amendment.

“There have been occasions were similar language has been used in the past and ratified by the public," Rep. Saiki told Hawaii News Now.

Educators across the state were dismayed by the ruling, which they believed would have drastically increased funding necessary to help improve Hawaii’s schools.

“I think we’re shocked, we’re disappointed. This has been a three-year fight to try and make sure we give our keiki the schools (they) deserve,” said Corey Rosenlee, the president of the state teacher’s union. “We have 1,000 classrooms that don’t have a qualified teacher, buildings that are falling apart. This will not stop, it can’t stop, and we need everyone in our community.”

Despite the blow that supporters of the measure were dealt, Saiki believes that fight for increased public school funding is not yet over.

“I’m pretty sure that even if the constitutional amendment was not approved in November that the legislature would come back next year and (work to) increase revenue for public schools,” said Rep. Saiki. “That’s a priority for us.”

The decision comes just one day after State Attorney General Russell Suzuki conceded that the proposal could lead to higher taxes for residential homeowners in the future.

Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald asked: “You would concede that the Legislature could impose a surcharge on residential real property that’s owner occupied?”

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

This story will be updated.

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