HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaii lawmakers on Tuesday overruled Governor David Ige’s veto of a bill that revised state funding for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the allocation of tourism tax revenue to counties.
The bill would stop funding the tourism agency with monies raised through the temporary lodging tax on hotel stays and other short-term rentals. Instead, despite using state coronavirus remedies for the current fiscal year, lawmakers intend to pay the agency with money from the general fund.
Instead of giving the four major counties of the state a share of the tax revenue for temporary accommodation, the legislation also gives counties the power to levy their own surcharge on the tax. The state is currently levying a uniform hotel tax rate on the islands.
The House of Representatives voted 38 for repeal, eight against and four excused members. The Senate voted 17 for the vote and eight against.
Senator Bennette Misalucha, vice chair of the Senate’s Energy, Economic Development and Tourism committee, said special funds should not be protected for the benefit of an industry. She said lawmakers had injected special funds such as hotel tax revenue into the general fund to stop this practice.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority, like other state agencies, will now need legislative support for its budget, she said. This requires the agency to be more accommodating with its strategic plans and forcing more communication between the agency and lawmakers, she said.
“It’s part of the control and balance in the state government,” Misalucha, a Democrat, said before the senators cast their votes.
Ige, also a Democrat, said he was concerned the move would affect the agency’s ability to move Hawaii beyond marketing Hawaii to travelers in order to better manage tourists coming to the islands instead.
“There’s really no other government agency that is able to identify the hotspots in every community, work with counties, states, and private sector individuals to really find solutions and, hopefully, fund them – at least on a pilot basis – so that we can determine and mitigate the impact of the visitors who come here, ”said Ige.
He said funding the tourism authority with federal coronavirus aid would hinder the agency, as such funds come with extensive reporting requirements and strict procurement procedures. The governor said this would affect the agency’s promotion and programs to fund the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival and other events.
Still, before lawmakers voted, Ige also told reporters that it was ready to carry out what lawmakers decided to do.
Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House of Representatives Finance Committee, said the bill is a tool for the state to better manage tourism. She said the measure did so in part by authorizing the Department of Land and Natural Resources to collect tourist fees for access to popular parks.
The Democrat said lawmakers could not only rely on the Hawaii Tourism Board to manage tourism at some point in the future, but would have to step in and get involved themselves.
“This is a bill to do this now,” she said during the debate in the Chamber.
This story has been corrected to show that the Hawaii Tourism Authority will be funded with federal funds for coronavirus relief funds instead of funds from the state’s general fund for the current fiscal year.