Hawaii Tourism Authority Budget Nearing Last Vote

HONOLULU, HAWAII — The final version of the bill which would make significant changes to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s (HTA) budget is one step away from being sent to the governor for his signature. Unlikely, but the bill could still fail during the full Senate floor vote after the changes made during a conference committee last week. Should it pass, Governor David Ige could veto the legislation.

The original bill was far more draconian and HTA could have lost a whopping 44 percent of its total budget.

The final version of House Bill 2010 HD1 SD2 CD1 indeed cuts the agency’s funding but forgives HTA’s debt on the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The conference committee agreed to reduced HTA’s $82 million tourism special fund by $10 million to $79 million and a separate convention center budget to $16.5 million from $26.5 million.

The Hawaii Convention Center has never been the money maker or attraction as intended. It is a beautiful structure, but maintenance has been sorely neglected and that is rarely mentioned by Hawaii news outlets because the rusting structural steel and rot are behind locked doors.

“Forgiving” HTA’s remaining $190 million debt on the convention center’s original $350 million construction cost was another delicate point which has been debated for years. HTA was obligated to repay the state’s general obligation bonds at the rate of $26.4 million a year. However, for what ever reason, two years ago HTA began to reduce their payment by $6.4 million which sent up yet another red flag. As we first reported some weeks ago, the last five state HTA audits produced a firestorm of criticism after the recent “scathing” 2018 audit caught the legislature’s rapt attention and a contentious joint Tourism Committee hearing was held.

HTA currently receives $108.5 million in transient accommodations taxes (hotel room taxes) with $26.5 million going to the convention center.

With Hawaii’s tourism numbers now approaching 10 million annually, the mission of the Hawaii Tourism Authority is being called into question and heavily debated.

Hawaii has the largest per capita homeless problem in the nation and the situation has been designated “a crisis” by the Governor. The proposed HTA legislation includes a new provision which gives the agency an additional $1 million to help with Hawaii’s massive homeless crisis. These funds are to be matched by the private Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. The fund will likely be used primarily in Waikiki due to the many homeless who gather there in the so-called “economic engine of all Hawaii.” The very sight of bedraggled homeless people is anathrma to some “elites” while others rightly ask, “how can this be happening in Hawaii?”

A bill to control and capture taxes from the controversial Airbnb rentals has failed for the second year at the State Legislature with many $millions “left on the table.” Recent research conducted by the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Justice indicates, “1 of every 24 homes in the state is used as a vacation rental” and are listed on Airbnb or a similar platform.” Combined with the limited land and high construction costs, the combined results have been catastrophic. House and condo rental prices have soared with no immediate solution in sight.

On our small island state with very limited land and natural resources, fresh water use and sewage treatment are pushed to capacity, massive trash disposal problems are growing with medical waste and other dangerous human debris routinely washing up on our once pristine beaches, too many tour buses and rental cars add to traffic gridlock on our many narrow roads and highways. To many kama`aina residents, the loss of all that once made Hawaii Hawaii is quickly disappearing. Oahu has a population of 950,000+ residents and the current daily visitor count is approximately 250,000.

eTurbonews will be delving more into Hawaii’s homeless crisis, overtourism and the loss of Aloha in the coming weeks.

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