Hawaii Sen. Brickwood Galuteria owes the City and County of Honolulu more than $7,200 in property taxes and fees after improperly claiming a homeowners’ tax break on property in Palolo Valley for the past four years.
The bill for back taxes comes after acting Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi ruled that it was appropriate for the senator representing District 12 and his wife to vote in Kakaako last fall.
In response to a complaint challenging Galuteria’s residency, the City Clerk determined Galuteria has lived in Kakaako since 2011, bolstering the senator’s insistence that he has a right to represent the district.
But the decision comes at a price: The senator now must pay the city $7,218.25 in property taxes and fees.
Sen. Brickwood Galuteria of District 12 listens during a Senate Water and Land Committee hearing on Friday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Galuteria came under scrutiny when Richard Baker, a campaign advisor to Galuteria’s general election challenger Chris Lethem, alleged that the senator didn’t actually live in Kakaako.
Baker filed a complaint with the city Elections Office on Nov. 2, contending the former Senate majority leader shouldn’t be allowed to vote in District 12, which includes parts of Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako, McCully and Moiliili.
The complaint also raised the question of whether Galuteria should be allowed to represent his district, an issue that’s up to Senate leadership to decide.
Baker’s complaint further indicated that if Galuteria does live in Kakaako, he has been improperly receiving a homeowners’ tax break on rental property that he owns in Palolo Valley.
Galuteria has since acknowledged that he wrongly claimed an $80,000 homeowners’ tax exemption on a rental property in Palolo for several years.
Gary Kurokawa, deputy director of the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, said in an email that the city will send Galuteria a bill for $5,618.25 in back taxes dating back to 2011 and $1,600 in civil penalties for failing to notify the city that he wasn’t living in Palolo anymore.
A large part of the back taxes — nearly $4,800 — is owed for year 2014 due to a recent property tax increase targeting rental homes valued at over $1 million. Galuteria’s Palolo property, on which sits two houses, is worth about $1.7 million.
In his complaint to the city Elections Office, Baker said he doesn’t think it’s believable that the senator, his wife and his mother have all been sharing the same small Kakaako apartment when the senator owns homes in Palolo and Kaneohe.
But in a Feb. 2 letter to Baker, Takahashi concluded that Galuteria and his wife have lived in Kakaako since 2011.
Galuteria told the City Clerk in a sworn statement that he spends more than 50 percent of his time at the Kakaako apartment and the rest at his Palolo Valley property, which he rents out to relatives. His wife said she spends 40 percent of her time in Kakaako and 60 percent of her time in Palolo.
According to Takahashi’s letter to Baker, the couple splits their time between the two homes for purpose of family caregiving.
Galuteria provided a copy of his rental agreement for the Kakaako condo as well as bank statements and tax documents sent to his Kakaako home last year.
Galuteria sent photos of the apartment, but he wouldn’t allow officials inside, citing privacy concerns. He refused to provide the names of people who could attest that he lives in Kakaako, calling the request intrusive and burdensome.
The City Clerk found that there was enough evidence proving that Galuteria lived in Kakaako to allow him to vote there.
Galuteria declined to comment for this story. He has previously said that he plans to pay back the taxes owed and wants to keep his life private.
Up to the Senate
While the city may have concluded that Galuteria resides in Kakaako, it’s now up to the Senate to decide whether Galuteria really lives in the neighborhood and should be allowed to continue representing Senate District 12.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim received an official complaint questioning whether Galuteria lives in Kakaako, but is still determining what course of action to take. Kim plans to discuss the issue with other Senate leaders this week.
Galuteria has been representing District 12 since 2008, but his sworn statement to the City Clerk only indicated that he has lived in the district since 2011. He previously told Civil Beat that he moved to Kakaako “in 2007 or 2008.”
Baker still isn’t convinced that the senator resides in Kakaako. He said the fact that Galuteria has been receiving a homeowners’ tax exemption in Palolo indicates that it is his primary residence.
“To us this looks like an elaborate shell game to try to hide the fact that Galuteria has more ties to real property outside his district than he does inside his district,” Baker said. “As far as I’m concerned, there is a lot of legalistic double talk without squarely answering the question.”
Baker has appealed the City Clerk’s decision.
The controversy over Galuteria’s residency status comes as House leadership grapples with what to do with Rep. Calvin Say’s residency challenge. House lawmakers held an unprecedented hearing last Friday on the issue and plan to come to a decision within the next couple of weeks.
Read the City Clerk’s letter regarding Galuteria below: