Legislators debate use of tax credit
Hawaii lawmakers are debating what to do with $75 million that would have been spent on building an aquarium on Oahu's Leeward Coast.
Some officials, including Gov. Linda Lingle and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, want to pour the money into new business development in Waianae, where many homeless people live on the beach and wages lag behind the rest of the state.
Others want to get rid of the tax credit entirely and save the public's money.
Ko Olina Resort canceled a plan to build the aquarium and agreed not to use the money in January. The House Finance Committee heard testimony about the tax credit yesterday.
"There continues to be a strong need for local job creation and job growth in the Leeward Coast area," said Tom Smyth, of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "We strongly believe this credit will create more and better jobs."
But Rep. Pono Chong (D, Maunawili-Kaneohe) questioned why Waianae should get these millions of dollars when other communities across the state are also in need of financial support. He said he was not convinced money for businesses would necessarily improve quality of life.
"There is a disconnect between economic development and the well-being of the people," Chong said.
The committee has not scheduled a vote on the tax credit, which would be available to commercial businesses.
If it is kept in place, it could be used for ideas such as a truck-driving training facility or a kitchen for local farmers, Smyth said.
"The area could still use the money. It can be used to upgrade the skill level of the people," said state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi. "Not everyone is enjoying the economic boom."
A similar bill in the state Senate would divide up the $75 million: $50 million would be spent on affordable housing, and $25 million would go toward a tourism training facility. That bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.