This week the Hawaii Legislature reconvened in a large and festive event, pictured here, and not seen since pre-Covid. Among the issues mentioned in various speeches yesterday were tax breaks, help for the mentally ill, and above all, more affordable rental housing, which is a thorn in Hawaii’s side. Lack of housing also dramatically impacts the Hawaii travel industry since workers increasingly find it impossible to live here. But also mentioned was something directly related to visitors’ pocketbooks. Here’s the how, when, and where of the proposed visitor green fees.
As governor, I will propose a $50 impact fee for visitors. — Governor Josh Green.
Legislators spoke of working together despite apparent tensions between Governor Green and them. That includes arguably the two most important legislators, Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki. We’ll skip what everyone had to say and cut to the chase about how this year’s legislature plans to address Hawaii travel issues.
Green said that his proposals and those he’s heard from legislators are, as he said, “super similar.” Let’s see if that is true or wishful thinking.
We expect to learn full details of the proposed environmental fee as soon as Monday when the governor’s State of the State address is scheduled to take place.
Green’s environmental impact fee for visitors is on.
Green isn’t backing off his plans for a visitor fee for environmental impact. In his campaign, the $50 fee was one hallmark proposal that he estimated could raise up to $600M per year. His stated goal has been to reduce the quantity of Hawaii’s “low-end” visitors and “the total number of tourists.”
He last spoke about the subject following his election in December when he reaffirmed his plan to introduce such a visitor impact fee on all Hawaii tourists.
Senate President Ron Kouchi spoke the obvious when he admitted that there are “potential legal issues about being able to do that.” He pointed out that where those fees exist is in countries rather than in states within countries. This is an excellent point. No states in the USA currently require visitors to pay an entry fee.
At odds with the plan, Hawaii’s semi-defunct marketing arm, HVCB, said last year that the “Green” fee was “dead on arrival.”
Hawaii has unsuccessfully tried to implement some such visitor fees for more than a half-century. This time, however, seems different; we suspect some version will become law later this year.
Do you take your “green” with the flight or hotel stay?
The proposed $50 per visitor fee to mitigate tourism’s environmental impact is popular with Green and some Hawaii residents. As BOH visitors have pointed out innumerable times, it would almost certainly run afoul of the 14th Amendment, which calls for freedom of movement between states. Thus it will need to be construed differently.
When Hawaii moves forward with Green’s “green” fee, there have been mentions of it either being added to hotel and vacation rental bills or collected by the airlines with ticket purchases. Let’s ponder that for a moment. What happens if someone plans to stay in multiple hotels on different islands? That has never been discussed.
Plus, you now have created additional work between hotels and airlines with the state of Hawaii to report and transfer fees collected. Hawaii also has repeat visitors who come more than once a year. So is this fee yearly or each time?
When Green spoke after his election about his plan to introduce the “green” fee, he said that how that would be charged, whether on arrival, via the airlines, or as a surcharge on accommodations, was still to be determined. He is, however, undeterred about pushing through some form of an added environmental impact fee on Hawaii visitors.
And the money goes where exactly?
Perhaps the biggest sticking point about the “green” fee for everyone is the state’s inability to be accountable for the money it receives, including almost 18% in visitor accommodation taxes. We believe visitors deserve transparency and being told how the money is being used.
Perhaps the allocation of such funds will be a highlight of an environmental impact fee proposal. We certainly hope so. Stay tuned for more possible answers next week.