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With a veto override, lawmakers make a big statement on the future of tourism

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers voted Tuesday to override the governor’s veto of a much-debated measure that’s poised to radically change how the state manages the visitor industry.

House Bill 862 cuts the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s budget by 24%, takes $103 million in hotel room tax revenues away from the counties but also allows the counties to levy their own taxes on hotels.

The override vote was a strong message from lawmakers that they are dissatisfied with the way tourism is being handled by the state ― and comes amid a boom in arrivals that’s overwhelming some communities.

“Considering the fact that a lot of our residents are now less supportive of tourism, it may be prudent for the HTA to focus its attention on resource management, tourism management rather than just marketing to tourists,” said state Sen. Bennette Misalucha, who represents Pearl City.

But Gov. David Ige said not having a dedicated funding source from the hotel room tax will make it difficult for the HTA and the Hawaii Convention Center to operate.

“I’m very concerned that House Bill 862 as passed would severely damage HTA’s ability to focus on our efforts to move beyond marketing and really get to destination management,” Ige said.

House leaders argued that under the measure, visitors will be paying more for the resources they use when they visit here.

“That’s why this bill also allows the counties to increase the TAT by 3 percent, in addition to that, we also raised rental car tax ... we allowed the DLNR to charge for ocean recreation,” said state Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee.

“It’s all part of a sustainable management plan.”

But override opponents believe politics are at play.

“This is a bill to punish the Hawaii Tourism Authority for doing a great job,” said state Rep. Gene Ward, who represents Hawaii Kai.

“This is a solution looking for a problem that we do not have.”

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