Buck stops with Hawaii taxpayers


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

While the song says there must be 50 ways to leave your lover, Hawaii lawmakers have come up with at least 43 ways to leave your money with the state.

As Hawaii's budget shortfall widens, legislators are considering new ways to raise revenues by increasing taxes, thinking up new fees and canceling tax exemptions.

The tax plans range from toll roads to dropping the constitutionally required tax refund. Other bills that have cleared either the House or Senate would allow state agencies to charge more for services and raise the taxes on liquor and tobacco.

Looming above all other tax plans is a bill to raise the general excise tax, or GET, by an unspecified amount.

While legislators say they have no choice but to consider tax increases, they feel abandoned because Gov. Linda Lingle has changed her position and is now threatening to veto any tax increases.

“;I'd like to say no taxes, no labor cuts, no nothing, but the hospitals are in trouble, mental health, all the safety nets are coming crumbling down.

“;We need leadership and she is not providing it,”; said Sen. Donna Kim, Ways and Means Committee chairwoman.

Legislators say that with the state budget facing a three-year shortfall of $910 million, the state needs to cut costs, trim payroll and find new sources of money.

“;We may have to (have) a combination of cuts, taxes, and if the governor doesn't come up with an labor component, we are almost doomed to raise taxes,”; Kim said.

Democrats say the state is running out of money for social programs, including mental health services, welfare payments and even meals for seniors.

“;When we met with her, she said everything was on the table, and now she says, 'No new taxes,'”; Kim (D, Halawa-Kalihi Valley) said last week in an interview.

Legislators say the tax increases are needed because Lingle's state budget does not balance.

“;It is unfortunate that the governor has chosen to include over $200 million in unrealistic assumptions in her financial plan,”; says Rep. Marcus Oshiro in his Finance Committee report on the state budget, House Bill 200.

In a statement, Lingle defended her change in position.

“;I remain committed to balancing the budget without raising taxes or laying off employees. Either of these actions would further weaken our economy,”; she said.

Georgina Kawamura, state budget director, characterized the budget negotiations this weekend as discussions on a series of assumptions.

“;We sent them a proposal. If they don't like it, there is no need to accuse us of something; they can use their own proposal to use whatever to balance the budget,”; Kawamura said.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, however, see specific areas to continue to battle for and against taxes.

When Democrats passed a bill raising taxes on mutual benefit associations and health benefit associations, House Republicans attacked.

“;Now, mutual benefit societies and health maintenance organizations, such as HMSA and Kaiser, will pass along this tax to consumers. ... It will end up being like a double tax on some medical care,”; said Rep. Lynn Finnegan, House GOP leader.



Here are some of the major tax proposals still alive in the Legislature. The state House bills have been sent to the Senate, and the Senate bills are now in the House:

House Bill 39 — Adds a $5 surcharge to the fee charged by a state agency for certain services.

House Bill 139 — Allows the state to enter into agreements with private entities to build, operate, own or finance newly constructed transportation facilities, including toll highways.

House Bill 560 — Establishes a Veterans' Service Tax on liquor and deposits the revenue into the Veterans' Services Special Fund.

House Bill 895 — Increases the tobacco tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes to 80 percent from 40 percent of the wholesale price and deposits an unspecified percentage of the proceeds collected into the Community Health Centers Special Fund.

House Bill 1167 — Authorizes the Transportation Department to pursue a comprehensive six-year modernization program and provides it sufficient resources to implement the plan by amending the state liquid fuel tax, state vehicle registration fee, state vehicle weight fee and rental motor vehicle surcharge through increases of the various taxes.

House Bill 1175 — Increases the cigarette tax to 20 cents per cigarette from 10 cents per cigarette.

House Bill 1271 — Increases the tax collected on each barrel of petroleum product sold by a distributor. Allocates portions of the taxes collected to various funds, including the general fund. Suspends for 36 months the requirement that gasoline sold in the state for use in motor vehicles contain 10 percent ethanol by volume.

House Bill 1495 — Repeals the deduction of wagering losses for Hawaii state income tax purposes.

House Bill 1518 — Authorizes motor vehicle towing companies to add the general excise tax to the fees charged to the owner of a motor vehicle left unattended on private or public property.

House Bill 1728 — Provides flexibility for administrative agencies to increase fees.

House Bill 1735 — Advances the date of filing of a general excise monthly tax return from the last day of the calendar month following the month in which the taxes accrue to the 20th day of that month to generate a one-time windfall in revenue due to earlier collection of taxes within the fiscal year.

House Bill 1744 — Suspends for six years the distribution of transient accommodations tax revenues to the counties.

House Bill 1747 — Increases the income tax for high-income brackets.

House Bill 1748 — Changes the insurance premium tax rates for life insurance and ocean marine insurance contracts.

House Bill 1749 — Makes the insurance premium tax applicable to mutual benefit societies and health maintenance organizations.

Senate Bill 32 — Repeals the sunset date of the tax exemption on gross income or proceeds from the sale of alcohol fuels.

Senate Bill 38 — Increases the tobacco tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes to 60 percent from 40 percent of the wholesale price and deposits 33.3 percent of the proceeds collected into the health systems special fund.

Senate Bill 199 — Sunsets and repeals all tax credits.

Senate Bill 698 — Increases the rental motor vehicle and tour vehicle surcharge tax to an unspecified amount.

Senate Bill 1111 — Increases the rate of the transient accommodations tax.

Senate Bill 1230 — Authorizes a tax on individuals and entities that transfer a stock ownership interest in a legal entity that owns real property located in Hawaii.

Senate Bill 1611 — Increases the state liquid fuel tax, state vehicle registration fee and state vehicle weight fee.

Senate Bill 1678 — Adopts amendments to Hawaii tax laws to implement the streamlined sales and use tax agreement.