Mufi's Message - 3/17/17
Starting this week, HLTA will introduce “Mufi’s Message” to keep our members updated on all things HLTA: our progress on legislative priorities, upcoming events and initiatives, and more. This week I’d like to inform you all about the status of HLTA’s legislative priorities this session.
Regarding homelessness, HLTA endorses thoughtful, comprehensive approaches to help the homeless receive permanent housing and necessary services, or help them return to their out-of-state homes if desired. We believe that a portion of the Transient Accommodations Tax revenue should be appropriated to relieve homelessness in areas that impact tourism, across the state. While the two measures we initially supported were stalled in the originating houses, we are currently targeting Bill SB1290 with House Tourism Chair Richard Onishi's support to appropriate $2 million to assist with this issue on a statewide basis. As you all know within the last 2 years, HLTA has made significant contributions on Oahu, Maui and Kauai to help combat homelessness outside of what we do through Charity Walk and this year we will do likewise for Hawai'i Island.
Our second priority issue this session is establishing a State airport corporation to give a laser-like focus to the ever-evolving demands of our state’s airports. With great leadership and support from the Department of Transportation’s Director Ford Fuchigami, Bill SB658 is currently moving smoothly and we expect it will pass this year. No taxes or public financing is required of this authority as all the funding will come from airline fees.
Our highest priority issue this session is establishing a level playing field with the Transient Vacation Rental market by collecting Transient Accommodation Taxes and gaining more transparency from online accommodation operators. Last year we supported a measure approved by the Legislature that would authorize online accommodation websites to collect taxes from their users and remit payments to the state; however, it was eventually vetoed by the Governor. This year we know that the Governor will not sign the same bill as last year, and are working to insert amendments or stronger language that will address more transparency and accountability for both the online platforms and individual operators; provisions to address the registration of transient vacation rentals; enforcement of reasonable fines that will hold the operators and hosting platforms to operate within the law and ensuring that state law or policy will not preempt the counties from implementing and enforcing their rules and regulations on this matter. I am optimistic despite the various twists and turns that this measure has encountered, we will find common ground, especially if the Governor indicates to the Legislature what is going to take for him to sign a bill into law. Millions of dollars that the state doesn't have should be collected sooner rather than later.
Two other tourism related issues of note that we support include Bill SB1084 backed by Senate Tourism Chair Glenn Wakai relating to reforming the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and Bill SB994 strongly supported by Senate President Ron Kouchi and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui relating to the establishment of a stadium authority. We’ll continue to support the HTA reform bill, especially since the procurement exemption was recently reinstated, and more importantly, with language in the measure to have the Governor fill appointments to the board in a timely manner and with individuals who have strong visitor industry experience. We believe this measure will strengthen HTA and help it foster a better relationship with the State. On the stadium authority, I have touted many times that a new sports / entertainment facility with transient oriented development opportunities and benefits are immeasurable, and the timing has never been better for this bill with the land being returned to the state. I envision a public / private partnership that would lighten the financial burden on the state. SB994 appears to be in good shape at the legislature with great support from the public and private sector.
Finally in addition to the issues we are actively addressing in the State Legislature, we are also staying alert on City and County measures as well. One such measure includes a proposed increase of $0.50 on hotel and resort Real Property Tax Assessments by the City administration which HLTA strongly opposes. At our recent Government Affairs meeting held on Thursday, March 16, we invited Councilmembers Ernie Martin (Former Council Chair and Budget Chair) and Ann Kobayashi (Former Budget Chair and now head of the Parks, Community & Customer Services Committee, who shared their thoughts and concerns with this rate increase because it will negatively impact our visitor industry operations and in turn, our hard-working employees. We share a belief with the Councilmembers that there is more money to be trimmed from the budget and urge the City to look into alternatives such as collecting funds from transient vacation units.
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