Kobayashi’s ‘farm relief’
tax bill a counterfeit


The City Council budget chairwoman is pushing a measure that could cut the city's revenue by $12 million.

JUST last week, Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the City Council budget committee, was scraping the bottom of the barrel in an effort to raise cash to balance the city's finances. So desperate for revenue, she proposed and won preliminary approval to bump up parking meter fees, extracting from drivers two-bits here and there to collect an additional $2 million.

So it is curious that Kobayashi would seem unconcerned about another of her proposals, this time one that may short the city as much as $12 million.

Under the guise of helping farmers, her plan would harvest a windfall for Oahu's largest and most powerful landowners by reducing their tax liability by a whopping 95 percent.

It would be good news if Kobayashi and her fellow Council members could find a way to give ordinary homeowners the same kind of handout, but individuals do not wield the political muscle that special-interest groups do. Still, the councilwoman, who is up for re-election this fall, would do well to remember that collectively, voters do count.

As head of the budget committee, Kobayashi has had running battles with the Harris administration about its spending proposals. With Mayor Harris departing City Hall at year's end, Kobayashi has her eye on who might next occupy the executive suite and is not above currying favor with key supporters of one candidate or another. Neither is she blind to her own political prospects.

Kobayashi's bill, drafted in part by the Land Use Research Foundation, a lobbying group of landowners and developers, would usurp a 2002 law designed to promote farming on land zoned for agriculture. The law assesses ag land that is not in crop production at much higher market values to discourage such uses as "gentlemen farms," where owners plant a few palm trees in an attempt to qualify for lower taxes.

Initially, some farmers had trouble with filing the necessary paperwork to receive certification for the lower rate, which is figured according to the length of time the land will be dedicated to agriculture. In the process of helping them, the city found that some who had been certified were cheating the system, even as about 900 legitimate farmers have been cleared.

Kobayashi, touting her proposal as a way to provide farmers with relief, would set assessment at 5 percent of market value for one year on all land zoned for agriculture, regardless of its use. This means that all uncultivated land, hundreds of acres awaiting zone changes for housing developments, also will get "relief."

The problem is that the budget bill now before the Council was based on property assessments made in January. Besides cutting revenue projections, Kobayashi's measure unravels the integrity of the assessment process by changing tax laws midstream.

Kobayashi says the revenue loss doesn't worry her. "I think it should be OK," she said, blithely adding that if not, the $12 million shortfall "just has to be absorbed."

Her attitude was far different a week earlier. In pushing for the 25-cent parking fee increase, she argued "there's lots to make up."

Kobayashi's fellow Council members, even those who usually follow her lead, should reject her tax scheme. If she wants to carry water for special interests, let her lug the load alone.



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