Our Civil Beat segment this week deals with sort of an issue inside an issue.
A "secretive deal" is in the works between Governor David Ige and Airbnb. Island News talked with Civil Beat's Chad Blair.
Paula Akana: Let's talk briefly about short term rentals like Airbnb and the issue of taxing them. There are two sides to this?
Chad Blair: That's right, Paula, there are many sides. Visitors love sites like Airbnb because they can get good deals, and hosts can pick up extra money. But housing advocates say we're losing housing units to short term rentals. Some also say we're losing neighborhood character as tourists displace locals. Then there's land use law. County zoning prohibits short-term rentals in most places on Oahu. The exception is resort areas like Waikiki, but the law is hard to enforce.
Paula Akana: Now to this secret deal-making.
Chad Blair: Little we know about the draft agreement is that it would allow Airbnb to collect taxes from its hosts and remit payment to the state, that's it. For instance, we don't know if Airbnb would help make sure hosts were operating illegally, as it has done in San Francisco. Gov. Ige's office said the draft is confidential taxpayer information. Airbnb could release a copy but won't.
Paula Akana: In fairness to the governor, the legislature took up this issue last session, but never passed anything?
Chad Blair: That's right. Given the competing interests and heated debates, it was hard to get anything passed through a public process. But should it be done behind closed doors? On Tuesday, about three dozen tourism, housing, labor and neighborhood people got together to plan how to push back.
Paula Akana: Beyond right or wrong, is this legal?
Chad Blair: The opposition says it at least violates the Hawaii Administrative Procedure Act. That's the law that ensures agency rule making is done in public. It's not clear whether an agreement would be considered rule making as the law defines it. But it's definitely not being done in public.