TAXWatch: Creativity Abounds at our Legislature

This year, our legislature once again is poised to consider revenue raising – namely, taxes in new and creative ways.  For a different perspective on the issue, we’re asking the Hawaii State Tax Watch Doggie, who has been going through the hundreds of introduced bills.

Q:        So do you see any new and unusual revenue raisers there?  

A:        Woof! Arf!  Yap!

Q:        Use the keyboard.

A:        SB 395would charge conveyance taxes on leases shorter than five years.

Q:        Conveyance tax, the tax paid on real estate sales?  But if the real estate is being rented, what’s the tax going to be paid on?

A:        It’s on the present value of the lease payment stream.

Q:        That couldn’t be much.  What would be the tax on a one-year lease where the rent is $1,000 a month?

A:        $17.43. 

Q:        Maybe you can get one bag of dog food for that.

A:        Then there’s HB 646, which would charge a certain dollar amount per person per day on a business providing live adult entertainment.

Q:        How much is the tax?

A:        The amount is blank now.

Q:        How are they going to enforce it?  Will they need to send people to the establishment to count the patrons?

A:        I’ll volunteer!  I, um, am curious about what kind of people go there.

Q:        Not sure that’ll work.  You need to be 18 years old to go in, and you’re only seven.

A:        Bummer. 

Well then, there’s HB 231, which is entitled “Tax Fairness.”

Q:        That’s scary.

A:        It increases various credits given to low-income taxpayers and pays for them by raising income tax rates.  The top tax rate would become 13%.

Q:        Didn’t the income tax rates just go up?

A:        Yes, they went up to 11% last year because of a bill passed in 2017.  Guess they’re itching to be top dog in state tax rates! 

            Here’s another one.  SB 112wants the counties to authorize construction of new housing units.  It specifies new housing unit targets for each county.

Q:        And what happens if a county misses its target?

A:        Then its share of transient accommodation tax money is reduced by $1.03 million.

Q:        Ouch!

A:        But it can get the money back if it makes its goal the following fiscal year!

            And then, there’s SB 382. It would raise the transient accommodations tax on time share units.

Q:        By how much would the tax go up?

A:        I don’t know.  The amount is blank now.

Q:        So how do you know that the tax is going to be increased?

A:        Because the first part of the bill says, “the existing tax formula for time shares significantly underestimates the fair market value … and therefore often fails to assess taxes at a fair and proper rate.”

Q:        Oh.

A:        Wish us luck following the legislature this year!  Woof!

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Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.