Constitutional Amendment Controversy

HONOLULU (KHON2) - KHON2 partnered with Common Cause Hawaii Tuesday for a special live forum on the constitutional amendment, or con am, for an education surcharge. The forum was streamed live from the Box Jelly coworking space in Kakaako.

Voters will decide in November whether to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for a property tax surcharge dedicated to school funding. The question will say:

"Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?"

It has become a controversial and contentious issue. A panel of community leaders representing many sides of the issues shared their perspectives and engaged in a civil dialogue about the pros and cons of the con am.

The panelists are:

  • Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, in support.
  • Deborah Zysman executive director of the Hawaii Children's Action Network, in support.
  • Colbert Matsumoto representing the Affordable Hawaii Coalition, opposing the amendment, and
  • Randy Roth, professor emeritus at the Richardson School Of Law, opposing the amendment.

1. This amendment has been called contentious, even confusing in its language. Each side represented here has firm beliefs in why to support or oppose it. Explain what this measure means exactly, and what the result of a yes vote and a no vote would mean.

2. If this measure does not pass, how could the state provide more, better targeted, and school-designated funding for education?

3. If this measure does pass, how can it be assured that the money raised would be added to the existing state budget amount for education, and not just considered a substitute source to pay toward the current general-fund amount schools get?

4. If this measure does not pass, what other resources or efforts exist to stem the tide of teacher turnover and recruitment challenges that are often blamed on the high cost of living for educators?

5. If this measure does pass, how specifically will it be determined and defined what types of properties will be taxed and at what amounts, and by when will this decision be made and be known to the voting public?

6. If this measure does not pass, what else can be done to help guarantee more or better targeted spending to improve classrooms and facilities?

7. The state has a history of redirecting and raiding special funds, and redefining who gets how much from a tax, even stretching sunsets well beyond their horizons. If the measure does pass, how can it be assured that the accrued money will be spent as intended toward public school education, and not redirected, raided, or redefined toward something tangentially education-related?

8. Some big money and muscle are behind public awareness initiatives on both sides of this matter, among the groups represented here from the HSTA teachers union supporting and seeking YES votes, and the Affordable Hawaii Coalition opposing and seeking NO votes. Explain where each of your organizations gets their money and their grassroots support for its position and messaging.

9. Counties have come out in strong opposition to this, even filing suit in a matter that the state Supreme Court will be taking up just two days from now on Thursday which could end up invalidating the measure on the ballot. If you were in the courtroom and had to plead a case to the justices, what would you say to try to convince them to keep the ballot measure active or to invalidate it as the counties seek?

10. Another ballot measure up for vote is whether to hold a Constitutional Convention, where topics such as educational funding could also be addressed. State whether you advocate a yes or no vote on that, and explain why others should vote that way.

11. In our KHON2 governor's debate last night, we asked Gov. David Ige, D, and his challenger Rep. Andria Tupola, R, several questions about this con am and asked for pledges on how they'd handle it if it passes and he or she is governor.

Gov. Ige said he supports the measure because:

  • Public education's needs exceed available funds,
  • We're the only state where no property tax helps schools; and
  • He feels it's a simple question for income and investment properties.
  • His pledge is to veto any measure that increases property tax for residents, or that does not guaranty revenue would be in addition to what's there and would be guaranteed to go to teachers students and classroom; none of the taxes would be on affordable rentals. He plans to monitor that by using the homeowner exemption to delineate who would be exempt.
  • He said the intent is to tax investment and income properties over $1 million, and he would add an exemption for affordable rentals.

Rep. Andria Tupola says she is against any tax hike, including this one because:

  • The con am's definition of investment properties ambiguous as to whether it could tax businesses and local rentals and ambiguous on what defines educational purpose with no guaranty it would go to salaries or the weighted student formula.
  • She said a whole new department could be required to administer the tax; and
  • She instead wants to audit the DOE on where it's spending now. 
  • Tupola’s pledge if con am passes is to ensure the money goes to the weighted student formula or teacher salaries and no additional dollars to administration or the general fund.
  • She says defining what is a surchargeable property would have to start with the counties and make sure they are outside owners, not housing local families or local businesses.

Please respond to what the candidates for governor said as to the impact their pledges have on your position and arguments.

12. Con am aside, whether this does or does not pass, what initiatives have or will you and the people or groups you represent today pledge to do to support sufficient and effective funding for Hawaii's public schools?

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