Star Advertiser: Supreme court hears arguments on constitutionality of city, state rail tax issue

(Via Star Advertiser)

By: Sophie Cocke

September 6, 2018

A judge is expected to rule Friday on a motion by Hawaii’s four counties to remove a question from November election ballots that would allow voters to amend the Hawaii Constitution and give the state authority to tax investment real estate to support public education.

The counties are suing the state to try to stop the question from being posed to voters, arguing among other things that the way the Legislature worded the ballot question is unlawfully vague. The counties, which currently have the exclusive power to levy property taxes, have also expressed concerns that allowing the state this additional taxing authority could cut into their ability to raise revenue for county services.

On Tuesday, First Circuit Judge Jeff Crabtree granted the counties’ request to expedite a hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction. The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Kauikeaouli Hale in downtown Honolulu.

The counties are hoping that Crabtree will go so far as to invalidate the ballot question.

“State law requires ‘the language and meaning of a constitutional amendment [to] be clear and … neither misleading nor deceptive,’” wrote Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong in a statement to the media. “Here, the question is misleading and deceptive.”

The wording of the question, as approved by the Legislature, is to state:

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

Hawaii Attorney General Russell Suzuki said in documents filed with the court on Wednesday that the counties’ arguments are without merit and that enjoining the state from placing the proposed constitutional amendment on ballots could disrupt the general election. He wrote that there are 240 ballot types that would need to be “changed, proofed and coordinated with the counting system.”

Suzuki also argued that the language of the question was clear and that the counties have two months before the general election to educate voters on their position on the amendment.

A majority of voters would need to vote “yes” for the proposed constitutional amendment to pass. The amendment would only give the Legislature the power to tax property for public education. Whether the state would impose such a tax, who exactly would be taxed and by how much would still have to be debated and approved by legislators.

Source: Star Advertiser

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