Our council members have been listening

When new property assessments threatened to send Hawaii’s property taxes sky-high, my colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii were among the first to sound the alarm.

We followed up by supporting proposals that would reduce the impact of the higher assessments, including higher homeowner exemptions, lower tax rates and taxpayer credits.

And our council members have been listening.

In every county — Kauai, Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii — we have seen interest in providing property tax relief — and not just for homeowners, but for other property owners as well.

Multiple bills have already passed, and many council members have asked for more information about how to reform the property tax systems in their counties.

Several have even publicly thanked the Institute for its work on the property tax issue.

In April, Kauai Council Chair Mel Rapozo appeared on KKCR radio’s “Kaua‘i Soapbox” — hosted by Kauai Councilmember Felicia Cowen — to talk about property tax reform, and he began his remarks with a “thank you” to the Grassroot Institute.

“I appreciate the Grassroot Institute,” he said. “They do amazing work and, you know, it’s helped us out quite a bit, so I’m just enjoying the dialogue.”

In June, Honolulu Councilmember Andria Tupola cited (at the 6:6:42 mark) the Institute’s testimony while talking about the Council’s efforts to pass a one-time real property tax credit, which Mayor Rick Blangiardi had proposed should be $300.

“I wanted to tell them, ‘Thank you,’” Tupola said, “because [Ted Kefalas, Institute director of strategic campaigns] has been pretty active. … We read your testimonies, we appreciate the breakdown of mathematics so that we can make better decisions.”

At the same meeting, Honolulu Council Chair Tommy Waters added (at the 6:6:43 mark): “I too want to thank Ted Kefalas. … I do recall what he said during the process, that $380 would equal the amount that most people’s property tax went up. We tried to get up to $380. But keeping in mind all the additional funding for public safety, we compromised at $350.”

Then, just last week, following oral testimony by Ted regarding Bill 37, which would increase the income eligibility for a property tax credit, Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Esther Kia’aina said she wanted to “mahalos”Ted and the Institute for “bird-dogging not just this bill but other bills throughout this process.”

These and similar comments I’ve heard from county officials about the work we’ve been doing at the Grassroot Institute have warmed my heart.

It’s easy to be cynical about politicians and tax reform, but in every county, local policymakers have been heeding the calls to reduce the property tax burden for their constituents. I am grateful and humbled that our work has played a part in this.

It’s proof that by working together, we really can help make a difference toward lowering the cost of living, expanding opportunities and making Hawaii a place where we all can thrive and prosper.

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for July 15, 2023. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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