AP NEWS

Hawaii bill would grant new tax powers to help pay teachers

January 29, 2020 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — A bill in the Hawaii state Legislature calls for a constitutional amendment that would give the state Board of Education new tax powers to help pay teacher salaries.

The bill is another approach to address claims by educators that public school salaries are too low to recruit and keep qualified teachers, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The bill proposed by Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki would give the education board real property tax authority concurrent with Hawaii’s four counties, which would retain their own real property tax authority.

The bill addresses how to fund increased teacher compensation, Saiki said in a statement Monday.

“The general public and business community must weigh in on whether taxes should be raised to increase teacher salaries, and, if so, whether a real property tax is an appropriate source of revenue,” Saiki said.

Saiki expects “significant opposition” to the proposal, he said.

The measure will appear on the 2020 general election ballot for voter approval if it passes the Legislature. A separate short form bill also has been introduced to implement the constitutional amendment if it is ratified.

The Hawaii Supreme Court previously ruled against an attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would have increased property taxes on second homes worth more than $1 million to raise money for public schools.

State Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that the wording on the ballot was not sufficiently clear. The October 2018 decision meant all votes cast on the question on pre-printed ballots were invalid in a statewide election the following month.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said in a statement that the proposed constitutional amendment follows similar funding approaches in other states.

“Giving the Board of Education authority over taxation is common practice across the United States, and it’s how many systems fund their schools,” Rosenlee said. “We appreciate legislators trying to adequately fund our schools and HSTA will have to research whether this proposal has enough popular support to be approved by voters.”