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Hawaii Supreme Court to hear challenge to ballot question

October 5, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition from the state’s four counties that are seeking to quash a ballot question giving the Legislature the power to tax investment real estate to fund education.

The state’s highest court is scheduled to hear arguments on Oct. 18, days before early walk-in voting sites for the November election open throughout the state.

Voters are poised to be asked, “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?”

The question would allow for the state Constitution to be amended, giving the state power to tax investment property. Only counties have the power to levy property taxes under current state law.

A lower court judge rejected the counties’ request last month for a preliminary injunction against the ballot question. Attorneys for the counties then filed a “petition for extraordinary writ” with the state Supreme Court.

County officials claim the ballot question is too vague and does not clearly tell voters about the additional taxing authority nor define investment property.

“The counties filed this petition for extraordinary writ so that we could argue the merits of our case before the state’s highest court, and we are pleased that chance has now been afforded to us,” Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong said. “Hawaii residents should know exactly what they are voting for and the counties believe that’s clearly not the case since the question that will appear on ballots proposes a new tax, but does not mention the word ‘tax.’”

The Hawaii State Teachers Association has backed the ballot question, arguing it would provide much needed funding for schools and teachers’ salaries.

“The counties lost before and they are going to lose again,” said Corey Rosenlee, the association’s president. “This is not some measure that just popped up. This is a measure that was passed by every single legislator, except one. It went through multiple committees. . We strongly believe that the county is wasting everyone’s time, they are wasting taxpayers’ money to do this.”

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