Bills proposing a tax on real estate investment trusts and establishing a statewide retirement savings program for private sector employees inspired some of the biggest spending on lobbying at the Hawaii Legislature during this year’s session.
Most of the trade group’s money went to ad buys in local media costing $182,773, while the organization spent another $77,160 on distribution for lobbying materials, though the reports don’t make clear what those materials were.
The trade group also made payments of $36,738 to consultants and paid its lobbyists from SanHi Government Strategies a total of $17,452.
Lawmakers estimated the corporate tax could eventually generate about $10 million per year for the state. The trade group warned that passage of the bill could amount to a net loss for the state if the REITS invest less in Hawaii on construction and job creation.
Some of Hawaii’s most iconic properties like the Hilton Hawaiian Village are owned by real estate investment trusts.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Supporters of the bill said it was about the REITS paying their fair share.
REITs are securities that hold real estate and distribute at least 90 percent of their taxable income to shareholders annually in dividends. Shareholders pay taxes on that income in their home state and countries, but few of them live in Hawaii and pay little in the way of corporate income taxes.
If Ige does sign SB 301, Hawaii would become just the second state to impose such a tax.
No Retirement Savings Plan
AARP isn’t typically a top spender at the Capitol. In the first half of the session for example, it spent just $3,750 to pay its lobbyists, Craig Gima and Jessica Wooley.
Starting in March, however, AARP launched a media blitz, spending $149,307 on advertising in the last two months of the session. Payments to its in-house lobbyists were also bumped up $3,750 to $24,123, according to the organization’s expense reports.
One of the issues AARP pushed heavily for was the Hawaii Retirement Savings Program, which would have created state-administered savings plans for private sector employees.
AARP members listen to Sen. Brian Taniguchi in a committee room at the State Capitol in the final minutes of a conference committee meeting.
The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously earlier in the session, but amendments forced it into conference committee deliberations.
“Providing private sector employees with access to employer-sponsored retirement plans is a reliable way to promote savings needed for a secure retirement, improve economic mobility, and reduce wealth disparity,” the preamble to the bill said.
It was opposed by the American Council of Life Insurers and NAIFA Hawaii, an organization representing life insurers and financial advisers. The two organizations reported payments to lobbyists of $19,350 and $5,250 respectively.
The organizations said in written testimony that the program could have placed cost burdens on small businesses and that there are other retirement programs, like IRAs, available to private sector employees.
Vacation Rentals and Plastics
Airbnb reported spending more than $75,000 in lobbying last session. About $65,000 of that went to pay lobbyists David Louie ($43,494), Matthew Middlebrook ($7,949.98), Bruce Coppa ($4,048.86), Blake Oshiro ($4,048.86), Ross Yamasaki ($4,048.86) and Shane Peters ($1,500).
Senate Bill 1292 became one of the session’s most controversial bills. Under the House version that was sent to the governor, the state would begin collecting transient accommodations tax and general excise taxes from short-term rentals, while hosting platforms, such as Airbnb, would act as a tax collector.
Lawmakers hope the new taxes could generate $46 million per year in additional revenues.
Opponents in the Senate worried that hiding the location of the rentals could lead to more of them. Airbnb also opposed the the measure, but for different reasons than the senators.
Airbnb was one of the top spenders on lobbying at the Legislature this session.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The vacation rental platform in written testimony criticized the idea that it might need to register with the state and provide identifying information about its rentals.
Some supporters of the increased regulations quickly turned against the bill in the closing days of conference committee when the House refused to negotiate with the Senate to resolve their differences over the bill.
The House also substantially changed a Senate bill that proposed banning single use plastics. Senate Bill 522 was watered down to just forming a working group to study the issue of plastics in the state.
The bill’s original draft was opposed by the food industry and food container manufacturers, which spent a total of $50,000 lobbying this session.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Kona Brewing Company opposed the bill. They testified in both the Senate and House in support of the measure.
Several local eateries also opposed the measure in written testimony including Shiro’s Saimin Haven and Queen Street Cafe. The measure was supported, meanwhile, by environmental and conservation groups.
Opponents of the measure, especially local businesses, worried that the sudden ban would mean paying more for alternatives to the iconic plate lunch container.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell