Green’s proposed visitor fee might be popular with residents, but lawmakers appear cool on the idea

Some lawmakers are questioning the legality of the plan.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 5:43 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the marquee elements of Gov.-elect Josh Green’s agenda is a flat fee on all visitors to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for everything from erosion to parks.

But it could already be in trouble at the Legislature ― a challenge that could be a test of his lobbying skills.

Riding high on a landslide victory a day after the election, Green was still bullish about a $50 fee on every visitor during an interview on HNN’s Sunrise show.

“If we have that impact fee, which would bring in $350 plus million per year, we could then put that into what’s called a captive insurance model and we could deal with climate change, we could deal with our parks and erosion. And it would make a big difference,” he said.

But the chairs of both the state House and Senate Tourism Committees said they oppose a flat fee.

House Tourism Chair Richard Onishi said there is widespread support for collecting money from visitors to mitigate the impacts of the industry. “But I do not believe that the green fee, a flat fee charge to all travelers coming to Hawaii, is the way to do it,” he said.

Senate Tourism Chair Glenn Wakai added, “I don’t believe now is the time ... to put forward an idea of a green fee.”

Onishi and Wakai are not sure if they will remain the heads of tourism committees in the upcoming Legislature as both houses will reorganize to bring in new members. But sources said many other lawmakers share the skepticism.

They don’t believe it’s legal to collect as an airport fee and forcing hotels to collect it might make visitors feel priced out and harm the hotels’ relationship to their customers.

They said user fees, or even higher room taxes, would be better than the flat fee.

“I’d like to begin the discussion there and look at that pot of money as a means to better manage tourism before we go and try and create a new pot of money that are only going to hamper the effort to resurge tourism in Hawaii,” Wakai said.

HNN political analyst Colin Moore, head of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center, said it’s rare for a candidate to make such a specific pitch.

“It gives opponents a lot of time to build coalitions to think of ways to kill it, to think of legal objections,” Moore said. “You just show your hand relatively early, which is why most politicians don’t like to do that.”

But Moore points out that Green is popular with voters and so is the fee proposal, which could be crafted in such a way to meet the objections.

Green acknowledged that he must engage lawmakers on the issue.

“It is a good idea,” Green said. “Whether or not it comes to fruition that will depend on our relationship with the Legislature and what the people want.”