A proposal by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to increase the county gas tax by five cents a gallon was shot down by the Honolulu City Council Wednesday.
Caldwell wanted to use the projected $15 million in extra revenue to pay for road repairs and the restoration of bus routes. The added tax was predicted to increase the city's annual take for the highway fund to $66.8 million.
The mayor testified in person, pleading with council members to allow discussion of his gas tax proposal to continue.
"I'm here to say, let it live so that we can receive additional testimony on this very important issue," said Caldwell, while standing at the podium normally occupied by everyday residents.
But In a 6-to-3-vote, the proposal did not get past first reading. Traditionally, council members vote in favor of bills on first reading, even if they don't agree with the stated goals of the measure.
The three council members who voted in favor of the proposal were Carol Fukunaga, Breene Harimoto and Ron Menor. They said that the proposed increase in the gasoline tax warranted further discussion.
Those who voted against the measure say there is already money budgeted for road repairs, and they can get more money from abolishing vacant funded city positions. They also say a hike in the gas tax will put undue pressure on Oahu residents, and in particular, senior citizens on fixed incomes.
At 16.5 cents a gallon, Honolulu's gas tax is about two times as much as Hawaii County, according to the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.
The mayor says he will continue to work with the council on road repair funding and will look at possibly increasing bus fares to restore routes, something that was suggested by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi during Wednesday's meeting.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson is crafting a proposal, Bill 22, that would do away with the city's gas tax altogether. Instead, there would be an annual vehicle surcharge fee.
"I'm not prepared to discuss in this point in time whether or not we''re going to go with a flat user fee, or whether we're going to go with a tiered user fee," Anderson told reporters. "I want to take that discussion to my colleagues."
Anderson said his surcharge proposal would not be an added burden to drivers.
"What we are doing is we are replacing the existing county gasoline tax with a user fee," said the councilman. "So it's a replacement, it's not an additional fee or an additional tax."
Anderson said if his proposal is approved, the city would still recoup about $52 million that the current gasoline tax is expected to generate in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.