Court right to reject Kauai tax referendum
The state Supreme Court has rejected a Kauai initiative aimed at limiting property tax increases.
ANGERED by property taxes that have been rising with home values, Kauai voters approved a ballot initiative three years ago to limit tax increases on stationary homeowners. Unlike California, Hawaii does not allow such initiatives, and the state Supreme Court has acted
to protect the county from a potential budget nightmare by ruling that the initiative was unconstitutional.
Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the County Council both opposed the initiative, and the county attorney brought it to court by suing the mayor, the Council and the county's finance director. Two high court justices cast dissenting votes in the absence of disagreement among the officials.
However, the three-justice majority agreed that such tax decisions should be made by the government, not by referendum. When delegates to the 1978 Constitution assigned "counties" the job of determining property taxes, they stated that "counties" meant "county governments," and they "did not intend that the phrase 'county governments' equates to 'the people of the counties,'" Chief Justice Ronald Moon wrote in the majority opinion.
Except for amendments to the state Constitution and state charters, voters have no direct control over state or county lawmaking, leaving that job to elected officials at those levels. Such a representative form of government protects Hawaii from the disastrous free-for-all style of California politics.
The Kauai initiative would have limited increases to 2 percent a year. It was patterned after California's Proposition 13, which put caps on property taxes in 1978. Like that proposition, the Kauai initiative would have put the cap on homeowners except for those who bought homes after its enactment.
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