Maui News reported today (May 15, 2019) on the "Council Budget up for first reading," by Colleen Uechi, Assistant City Editor, which shows tax increases in the the new proposed budget. You can read directly on the website with photos (click here) or read below
After years of cutting back the mayor’s budgets, the Maui County Council is bringing an $823.6 million budget to the table, $43 million higher than Mayor Michael Victorino’s proposal and a touch above the $820 million proposal that former Mayor Alan Arakawa called his “most aggressive budget proposal to date.”
The fiscal year 2020 budget is headed for first reading before the Maui County Council on Friday, the culmination of dozens of meetings and public hearings since late March. The council has to pass the budget on second reading by June 10, or Victorino’s $781 million budget goes into effect.
Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, chairwoman of the Economic Development and Budget Committee, said on April 29 after the committee passed the budget that she was happy with the final product.
“I think we’re going to do great things,” Rawlins-Fernandez said. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is. We talked about how affordable housing is a priority, and I think we made it a priority in this budget. I think we made environmental protection and cultural preservation a priority in this budget.”
But last year’s budget chairman, Council Member Riki Hokama, was critical of the increases, saying he had “never voted for a budget that I cannot even tell one person what is our expenses, what is our revenues and what did we fund.”
Council Member Riki Hokama speaks out against the council’s budget proposal on April 29.
“I’m kind of disappointed that we didn’t bring more clarity to the process,” he said during the April 29 meeting. “I’m still yet befuddled. I hope staff can show me the numbers that make more sense because eventually somebody’s going to have to explain to the taxpayers what we did, and I really don’t know who can, to be honest.”
All told, the council’s budget includes $670.8 million for operations (about $22.7 million more than the mayor’s) and $152.8 million for capital improvement projects (about $20 million more). They increased most categories of real property taxes — the county’s largest revenue source — to generate a net revenue of $358 million, close to $20 million more than both the mayor’s rates and the current rates.
When asked about the ways the budget prioritized affordable housing, Rawlins-Fernandez pointed to the addition of $400,000 to the mayor’s proposed $1 million affordable rental housing fund and the allocation of $1 million to a new experimental and demonstration housing projects fund. She also pointed to committee’s decision to increase the affordable housing fund to 4 percent of real property tax revenues (the Maui County Code requires at least 2 percent), which would total $14.3 million. (Combined with the current balance, the affordable housing fund would have $26.1 million in fiscal 2020.)
The council’s budget also ups funding for homelessness programs from $1.7 million to $2.2 million, including $250,000 for “homeless programs that collaborate with the community,” $200,000 for a mobile hygiene unit in Central Maui and $50,000 for homeless programs on Molokai.
Rawlins-Fernandez countered Hokama’s criticisms, saying that council members knew what was in the budget because “many of the projects that are really important to our districts were funded finally.”For example, the committee addressed the concerns of Council Member Tamara Paltin, a former lifeguard, adding about $400,000 to the Ocean Safety Program to cover staff increases from 52 to 64 and other needs like annual medical exams and new vehicles. For Rawlins-Fernandez’s district, the committee added $500,000 to the Office of Council Services to cover Phase I of a Countywide Master Plan for Shoreline Retreat that would start with Molokai.
The budget also puts money toward other environmental and conservation concerns, including $660,000 for the containment and removal of miconia and other invasives, $225,000 for the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to do coastal water quality monitoring and Maalaea Bay water quality projects and $50,000 for the National Guard to work on coqui frog eradication. (The council also kept the mayor’s $2.5 million allocation for the coqui frog eradication project.)
On the capital improvement projects side, the council added $9.5 million in bond funds that would cover the purchase of Wailuku Water Co., an Arakawa proposal that stalled at the end of last year. They also put in $3.5 million in bond funds for a Lanai Youth Center and Skate Park, as well as some projects that still need bond authorization, like the $7.5 million Kihei-Makena sewer expansion.
“The administration will need to come back to the council to authorize taking out the loan necessary to finance the project,” explained David Raatz, supervising legislative attorney with the Office of Council Services.
The council in recent years has typically cut back the mayor’s budget proposals. Last year, the council pared Arakawa’s fiscal 2019 budget from $820 million to $758.3 million (7.5 percent decrease). The council also reduced his fiscal 2018 budget from $720.3 million to $705.2 million (2.1 percent decrease) and his fiscal 2017 budget from $711.5 million to $659.5 million (7.3 percent decrease).
At $823.6 million, the council’s fiscal 2020 budget is 5.5 percent higher than Victorino’s $781 million proposal and 8.6 percent higher than the current fiscal 2019 budget of $758.3 million.
Hokama said during the April 29 meeting that he thought the committee could’ve made more cuts and focused more on protecting shoreline properties.
“We were too shortsighted on finishing this year’s budget instead of setting the first step on what we’re going to need to do for the next 20 years,” he said.
But other council members at the meeting were supportive of the process. Council Chairwoman Kelly King said she was “happy we created a program first instead of creating the funding first and then trying to fit the program to it.”
“I think we’ve done a lot of hard work on shoring up infrastructure,” King said. “Every year when we get into budget, it’s not time to start making plans. I think we need to do that starting the week after we pass the budget in second reading and do the TIG (temporary investigative group) on tax reform and do the TIG for affordable housing . . . instead of waiting until we get into budget.”
Council Member Alice Lee, also a former budget chairwoman, was also pleased.
“This has been a truly collaborative process from beginning to end, even where you tried to average (council members’ tax) rates,” Lee told Rawlins-Fernandez. “I’m really happy with many of the decisions and the proposals of the members, because we are going to be doing some really new things.”
To view the budget committee’s report and full budget, visit mauicounty.us/agendas/. Click on the agenda for Friday’s meeting, then click “CR 19-49” on page 5 [see below].
Budget includes funds for housing, environment, infrastructure
The Maui County Council is proposing an $823.6 million budget for fiscal year 2020. Here’s a breakdown of some of the projects and programs:
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
• $2.2 million for homelessness programs, including $200,000 for a mobile hygiene unit in Central Maui and $50,000 for homeless programs on Molokai.
• $1.4 million for affordable rental housing programs.
• $1 million for an experimental and demonstration housing projects fund.
• $850,000 for 22 affordable rental units at Hale Mahaolu Ewalu Phase II.
• $450,000 for a study to identify potential affordable housing sites.
ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION
• $2.5 million for the coqui frog eradication project, and $50,000 for the National Guard to assist in eradication.
• $2.4 million in watershed protection and management.
• $500,000 for Phase I of a Countywide Master Plan for Shoreline Retreat, starting with Molokai.
• $660,000 for the containment and removal of miconia and other invasives.
• $225,000 for the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to do water quality projects.
PARKS, ROADS, INFRASTRUCTURE
• $13.5 million for the West Maui recycled water system expansion project.
• $12.5 million for the Central Maui Landfill expansion.
• $7.8 million for the Kaupakalua road pavement reconstruction.
• $7.5 million for the Kihei-Makena sewer expansion project.*
• $4.1 million for bridge replacements in East Maui.
• $3.5 million for the Lanai Youth Center and Skate Park.
• $2.8 million for War Memorial Complex paving improvements.
• $1 million for the North South Collector Road.
• $4.4 million to the Ocean Safety Program to cover staff increases, annual medical exams, new vehicles.
• $1.8 million for a new Molokai police station outside the flood and tsunami evacuation zone.*
• $455,000 for the Pukoo Fire Station relocation.*
• $250,000 for a feasibility and assessment study for a new Haiku Fire Station.
*Bond authorization withheld, meaning that the administration must return to the council to authorize taking out a loan for the project.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.
Recent Updates were provided to West Maui Community at Briefing sponsored by Senator Roz Baker and Representative Angus McKelvey at the West Maui Senior Center on Wednesday, May 8th.
Some very good news for West Maui Capital Improvement Projects and a refreshing optimism for progress on the North Phase of Lahaina By Pass Highway as well.
Please see attached reports.
WMTA Shares these commentaries, without taking a position unless otherwise noted, to bring information to our readers
To view the archives of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii's commentary click here.
A Threat To Judicial Independence
By Tom Yamachika, President
When we learn about our three branches of government, we’re usually told that the legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries them out, and the judiciary branch interprets them. Each branch serves as a check and balance on the other two.
The legislative branch also has the power to raise money, for example by imposing taxes, and the power to spend it. It’s been written that such power is with this branch primarily because it’s most directly accountable to the people. Each state legislator must run for office either every two or every four years. Most in the executive branch and the judiciary are spared that ordeal.
With the power to spend money comes the power to place conditions upon its use. The legislature might not have the power to tell the executive branch what to do directly, for example, but it could certainly say that a particular agency shall do X, or shall not do Y, if it wants to see legislatively appropriated dollars flow into its coffers.
Against that backdrop is a very debate-worthy comment from one powerful senator at the end of the 2018 session. He described a “tension” between the legislative and judicial branches of government:
"We also had some tension with the judiciary. That was very healthy as well. They did some rulings that we thought were stepping into the legislative arena, they were trying to legislate from the bench. We control the purse strings, so we said no to a lot of their money. They reversed some of their decisions. We gave them some money. So the tension worked."
Civil Cafe: Legislative Wrap-Up 2018 Panel Discussion 23:10-23:34 (May 2, 2018).
In past articles we at the Foundation often have urged our legislators to use their power of the purse to set priorities for where we are going as a society. The state has a limited amount of hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and the legislature is there to make sure that the dollars they collect are spent wisely for our collective benefit.
In other states, this kind of tension has played out in the public arena, with observers scratching their heads and with the media having a field day. In New York in 1991, for example, Governor Cuomo slashed the judiciary’s budget and Chief Justice Wachtler sued, eventually resulting in a settlement. A similar spectacle occurred in Illinois in 2003, where the justices ordered the government to pay salary increases that its governor vetoed.
What the Hawaii Senator referred to, however, is not a question of finding the wisest use of scarce taxpayer funds. It was an attempt, and a successful one if we take the speaker at his word, to use that power to influence the content of judicial decisions. “Justice is blind,” we are told, meaning that justice should be applied without regard to money, power, or other status. If money — especially our own money — is used to skew or bend the justice we deliver here in Hawaii, then our justice is tainted.
Certainly, the Legislature and the Judiciary have their respective jobs to do and there is some merit to slapping down one branch that has entered the other’s kuleana. Legislating from the bench isn’t legitimate either; that’s why the courts have a “political question doctrine” that says policy issues for which no discernible standards in law exist are not issues for court resolution but are to be left to the legislature. What happens, though, if the judiciary and the legislature disagree on what questions are political and which are judicial? Do we let the courts decide, or should the legislature be allowed to take matters into its own hands by pulling the purse strings?
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