Teachers union proposes new surcharges to help pay for education

Teachers union proposes new surcharges to help pay for education
Published: Jan. 25, 2017 at 6:02 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2017 at 7:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The Hawaii State Teachers Association believes taxing two areas would raise millions of dollars to recruit and retain teachers, reduce class sizes, pay for special education and fund educational programs.

"This is a real way of trying to fix this problem," HSTA president Corey Rosenlee said.

HSTA's behind a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to authorize lawmakers to levy two surcharges.

One would establish a surcharge on residential investment properties valued at more than $500,000.

"Basically, this is for these large corporations that are buying up all these properties and spending millions of dollars. These people pay a very small fraction of what they would pay on the mainland for property taxes," Rosenlee said.

Hawaii is the only state that doesn't apply property taxes to school funding.

The teachers' union also wants a surcharge on hotel rooms, timeshares and Airbnb of $3 or $5 per day, depending on accommodation.

"It's like one percent of what they're paying," Rosenlee said.

HSTA estimates the surcharges could net about $500 million a year.

Sen. Karl Rhoads signed onto the bill.

"I think we're in a crisis point in education. We've got to think big and we've got to think bold if we're going to have an education system worth going to," he said.

Sen. Glenn Wakai agrees education is underfunded, but he opposes both surcharges.

"Instead of increasing the surcharge or taxes on our hotels and our investment community, we need to bring Aribnb and all of the vacation accommodation alternatives and make them pay their fair share. If we were to bring that group of folks into the taxpaying fold then maybe we could appropriate those monies to help with education," he said.

Low-income households, senior citizens on fixed incomes and some others wouldn't have to pay the investment property surcharge.

HSTA wants voters to decide on the proposal during the 2018 election.

"Our keiki are important, and this gives them the choice to decide if they want to fund our schools," Rosenlee said.

An HSTA poll showed 80 percent of people in Hawaii want more funding for public education. Counties control property taxes. Amending the constitution would allow the state to get involved.

"There's a lot of good things that we're trying to fund through this constitutional amendment," Rosenlee said.

Hawaii ranks last in the nation for spending money on school improvements, and its teachers are the lowest paid after cost-of-living adjustments.

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