In the KITV/Civil Beat debate last week, moderators asked mayoral hopeful Ben Cayetano to give an example of his commitment to fiscal responsibility.
“I cut taxes,” Cayetano responded. “Mr. Caldwell here, Kirk, raised taxes. He raised the real property tax. He also raised, increased the admission fee to the Honolulu Zoo for kids by 200 percent.”
Civil Beat reviewed reports earlier this year from the Tax Review Commission showing that Cayetano cut income tax rates while serving as governor.
But what about his opponent Kirk Caldwell? Did he raise property taxes and increase the fee for keiki to go to the zoo?
Property taxes in Hawaii are low compared to most other states. But perhaps because the income tax rate is so high — not to mention the cost of property itself — any changes to property tax rates are controversial.
City records show that property taxes were raised in both years that he served as managing director of the city under former mayor Mufi Hannemann. The amount of influence that the managing director has on tax rates has to be balanced with the influence of the mayor and the Honolulu City Council. Although Caldwell served as mayor between July and September in 2010, he did not have a chance to propose an official city budget as mayor.
This table shows what property tax rates were before, during and after Caldwell’s term as managing director:
For Fiscal Year 2010 — between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010 — the Hannemann-Caldwell administration raised property tax rates by 13 cents, from $3.29 to $3.42.
The administration originally suggested raising the rate to $3.59 — a 30 cent increase — but the proposal did not pass. Hannemann called the increase “unavoidable” due to falling property values and the city budget crisis.
The following year, rates rose again for some homeowners after the city adopted a split rate system.
Homeowners who lived in their homes paid the same rate of $3.42. Those who didn’t occupy their homes — about 47 percent of homeowners — paid 16 cents more, or $3.58 per $1,000 of assessed value.
After Hannemann and Caldwell left office, property tax rates changed to a flat rate of $3.50 — higher for some, lower for others. An earlier Civil Beat fact check showed that this change — which happened under Mayor Peter Carlisle — led to less property taxes being paid overall compared to the tiered system.
As for zoo admission fees, city ordinances show that in 2009, the city increased admissions fees for Honolulu Zoo. Kids ages five and under used to get in for free, but that was changed to kids ages three and under. Kids who didn’t get in free (up to age 12) used to pay $1; that was changed to $3, an increase of 200 percent.
Hannemann said the price increases were necessary to cover operational costs. The increase in fees helped the zoo bring in almost $800,000 more revenue in 2010. Caldwell served as mayor for about two months that year after Hannemann resigned in July. He lost the special election in September to Peter Carlisle.
Today, kamaaina kids and those with parents in the military pay $4 to enter the zoo, while kids of visitors pay $6.
BOTTOM LINE: Cayetano said that Caldwell raised property taxes and the admissions fee for kids at Honolulu Zoo. City records show that property tax rates did increase when Caldwell was the city’s managing director and that the zoo fee for kids increased threefold. Civil Beat finds Cayetano’s statement to be TRUE.
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