Proposed legislation introduced by state House Speaker Scott Saiki would allow residents to vote on an amendment to Hawaii’s constitution that would give the state Board of Education “concurrent real property tax authority” to help fund teacher compensation.
If approved by the Legislature, House Bill 2671 will be placed on the 2020 general election ballot, and voters will have the opportunity to ratify it.
The question on the ballot would read: “Shall the constitution of the state of Hawaii be amended by repealing the counties’ exclusive jurisdiction over real property taxation and providing instead that the taxation of real property shall be under the concurrent jurisdiction of both the Board of Education and the counties, thereby allow the Board of Education to levy real property taxes to fund teacher compensation.”
“HB 2671 addresses the question of how to fund increased teacher compensation,” Saiki said a news release Monday. “The general public and business community must weigh in on whether taxes should be raised to increase teacher salaries, and, if so, whether a real property tax is an appropriate source of revenue.”
Under the proposal, counties will retain their real property tax authority in addition to the BOE.
“Giving the Board of Education authority over taxation is common practice across the United States, and it’s how many systems fund their schools,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, a teachers union with more than 13,700 members across the state. “We appreciate legislators trying to adequately fund our schools and HSTA will have to research whether this proposal has enough popular support to be approved by voters.”
Department of Education spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers said the DOE does not yet have a position on the legislation, “however, we look forward to continuing the discussion with lawmakers on solutions to fund public education.”
Saiki did not respond to a call and email from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald by deadline.
Mayor Harry Kim, however, said he would “very strongly oppose” the legislation.
“The major source of revenue for Hawaii County government (is) property taxes, and to raise it even a small percent is a huge problem for us,” he said.
Kim said the county would have no input in regard to the property tax the BOE would control.
“… Just call someone from our county Property Tax Office and ask the how long it takes us to review what we’re going to increase or not increase in regards to a small percentage (property tax increase) to balance our budget,” he said.
That control “should never leave the county government.”
The measure has passed first reading and was referred earlier this week to the House committees on Lower and Higher Education, Judiciary, and Finance.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no committee hearings had been scheduled.
This is the latest effort by the state Legislature to help better fund education in Hawaii.
Another constitutional amendment was proposed in 2018 to establish a surcharge on investment property to be used to support public education.
Hawaii County joined other counties in the state in a lawsuit to strike the proposed constitutional amendment question from the 2018 ballot.
In October 2018, the Hawaii Supreme Court struck question from the ballot, unanimously ruling that the proposed amendment did not meet the state constitution’s requirement that amendments be clear and not misleading, according to an Associated Press report at the time.
In 2017, a bill that would have asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment to create an “education surcharge” on timeshares, hotel rooms and other vacation units, died the House and Senate Conference Committee. Legislators said the bill was “fundamentally flawed and open to serious legal challenges.”
In 2019, two Senate bills that aimed to improve teacher retention by creating a housing voucher program for teachers employed by the state DOE or at public charter schools, died in the state House.
Late last year, the BOE approved a proposal by the DOE to address Hawaii’s teacher shortage by increasing pay for classroom teachers in areas that faced the most severe shortages: special education, Hawaiian language immersion programs and geographically hard-to-staff areas.
Gov. David Ige said at that time, that upon approval by the BOE, which came in December, funding for the initiative would be included in the executive supplemental budget, which covers both years of the biennium and which was submitted to the state Legislature that month.
A separate bill, House Bill 2662, has been introduced to statutorily implement the constitutional amendment if it is ratified. That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Lower and Higher Education. No hearing date was set as of Wednesday afternoon.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.