Maui County 2023 Budget, a moral document to be proud of
by Gabe Johnson
For the fiscal year 2023 budget session, my focus was addressing our county’s biggest issues, the housing crisis and houselessness, diversifying our economy and caring for our kupuna.
I’m proud to have worked with my council colleagues during the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee’s deliberations throughout April to address these and other challenges.
I’m happy to share that all of my final priority proposals and two of my alternates were included in the budget that passed out of committee. A gem of a proposal, and my top priority is the creation of a Housing and Community Development Division within the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, structured to expedite the creation of affordable housing.
I also proposed increasing the Affordable Housing Fund to $58 million, as recommended by the Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan by raising taxes on hotels and other investment properties that are profiting at record levels. I commend that this budget put 7 percent of Real Property Tax revenue towards the Affordable Housing Fund to get us much closer to the amount we need to tackle the crisis.
Local government must take a more active role funding affordable-housing projects. Finding innovative ways to subsidize development that puts our local families first at a price they can afford requires the use of innovative tools, including further tax reform.
I believe an equitable real property tax structure includes increased tax rates on luxury second homes and transient accommodations, paving the way for more affordable housing. As I stated on May 13, tax fairness does not mean that everyone is treated equally, it means that everyone’s needs are being met and from what I see tourists are getting their needs met, but are our people’s housing needs being met?
Earlier this year, I wrote Bill 61 which expanded the uses of the Affordable Housing Fund to include long-term planning for affordable housing, houselessness solutions and infrastructure assessments. In this budget, I was able to earmark affordable housing funds to complete a Maui County Comprehensive Plan to end houselessness and expand the master plans and feasibility studies of county-owned land parcels to include the housing project on Lāna‘i.
Social well-being is the foundation of a successful community and how we treat our vulnerable is a measure of our humanity. I proposed funding Phase I of the Lānaʻi Kinaʻole expansion to create Lānaʻi’s first adult-daycare facility, ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our kupuna.
I also proposed a $2.5 million grant to Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to support renters in need and distribute grants to local homebuyers including Individual Development Accounts and deferred mortgages, a solution that arose out of my Feb. 25 Affordable Housing Committee meeting. By working together with non-profits, we can ensure our families get into housing and keep them there.
Livable wages and diversifying our economy are key, so I also prioritized raising the minimum wage of the Department of Parks & Recreation PALS (Play and Learning Sessions) workers from $10.75 to $15 per hour and doubled the funding of agricultural microgrants from $1.5 million to $3 million.
I’m proud of my fellow councilmembers for working hard to create a draft budget that I believe addresses our needs in a fiscally responsible way. I take to heart Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about a government’s budget being a moral document, demonstrating how we take care of each other.
I encourage community testimony at upcoming council meetings this Thursday and June 8 for second and final reading of the proposed budget, starting at 9 a.m.
With the budget passed out of committee, the Affordable Housing Committee is returning to its regularly scheduled meetings. On Monday at 1:30 p.m., the committee will discuss affordable sales price guidelines including presentations on why affordable housing prices are too high and why we should be following recommendations from the Comprehensive Affordable Housing plan to reduce them.
Please testify to let the Affordable Housing Committee know your thoughts about the administration raising price guidelines for affordable housing yet again. You have a voice in my committee and I invite you to share what affordable means to you.
I would love to gather the public’s manaʻo—and with your help, there’s much more to come.
* Gabe Johnson is chair of the Affordable Housing Committee. He holds the council seat for the Lāna’i residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.