Bill would shift tax credit to boost Leeward housing
Some legislators say the $75 million should also assist other areas
Lawmakers are ready to transfer a $75 million tax break to entice developers to build an aquarium at Ko Olina to tax breaks to encourage affordable rental units along Oahu's Leeward Coast.
House Bill 1277 has powerful backers: Gov. Linda Lingle and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who also supported the original Ko Olina tax credit.
But Hanabusa announced in January that Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone was not going to take the tax credit, because his resort and real estate developments in the area were doing well enough without having to build an aquarium to lure investors and qualify for the 10-year tax credit.
Hanabusa says the tax credit should be redirected to helping the economically disadvantaged Waianae and Nanakuli areas.
The bill would hand out $7.5 million a year in tax credits for 10 years to encourage developing affordable rental housing, a hotel training facility and educational media facilities. The bill would also repeal the Ko Olina credit.
Lingle says the plight of the homeless is so desperate and the lack of economic opportunity is so overwhelming that she would support almost any project.
"As long as it achieves the goal of spurring investment on the Leeward Coast ... I am very open."
Others say if the state is going to dedicate $75 million to economic development, it should not be confined to Leeward Oahu.
"I have grave concerns about the amount of money that would go into one district," Sen. Lorraine Inouye said.
"We are all talking about revitalizing the economy, about homelessness and getting more housing," Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa), a former Big Island mayor, said.
"The problems are also prevalent in my county. You should see my homeless at the Kona Airport or in Hilo in the bushes and parks," she added.
Also questioning the tax credit idea is former Senate President Robert Bunda.
"I have reservations about this bill," Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) said.
"Who are the drivers behind it? There are too many hidden things. Someone has to be driving this bill," he said.
Hanabusa defended the measure, saying she would like to see training schools for hotels and electronic media schools that would capitalize on the successes of student videos done by Waianae High School students.
Noting that the Waianae-Nanakuli area "already carries the undisputed burden of the homeless in this state," Hanabusa said the $50 million earmarked for affordable-housing projects should result in the construction of 300 affordable rental units.
Hanabusa said she would not stop other legislators from pushing a proposal to help their own districts.
"If you feel that a portion of the Big Island needs something, by all means talk it up at the Legislature," Hanabusa said.