BY JIM DOOLEY – As rising gasoline prices drive up the cost of transportation in Hawaii, the Hawaii State Legislature is poised to pass laws that sharply increase the cost of owning a car or truck.

Bills to increase vehicle weight taxes and registration fees would generate more than $55 million, most of it earmarked for highway repair and maintenance.

Those fee and tax hikes would come on top of similar hikes imposed in recent years by the counties.

One pending bill, SB 1329, would add an extra dollar to the state vehicle weight tax. For an average passenger vehicle weighing 3,500 pounds, the current tax is 75 cents per hundred pounds and the weight tax is $26.25. At $1.75, the weight tax would be $61.25 – lightening your wallet by $35.

The weight tax for larger vehicles that weigh 4,001 – 7,000 pounds would rise under the bill to $2 and $2.25 for vehicles that weigh between 7,001 and 10,000 pounds. The largest vehicles are in line for the largest tax increase, from the present $15 per hundred pounds to $300.

The Transportation Department estimates the measure would generate $32.9 million. The Tax Department puts the increase at $34.5 million.

Then there is the state registration fee – also not to be confused with similar fees charged by the counties.

Under SB 1328, the state fee would rise $20 per vehicle, regardless of size, to $45.

Transportation officials say the measure would raise an extra $22.9 million, mostly for the state Highway Fund, which lawmakers and elected officials have periodically tapped over the years for other fiscal needs.

Final versions of the measures have not been approved by lawmakers.

Because the taxes are collected once a year, when vehicle registrations must be filed, car and truck owners don’t notice the increases right away.

“The cost of registering a car and paying the weight taxes has become so mind numbing elected officials hope drivers won’t notice,” the Tax Foundation of Hawaii said about the proposed increases.

Protests were voiced during legislative hearings by individuals and businesses alike.

Katherine Kupukaa of Mililani, who said she is unemployed, told lawmakers she has a difficult time paying vehicle fees now.

“The amount that I am required to pay has increased steadily over the last six years,” she wrote.

“Last December I waited until the last day of the month (to pay) because I didn’t have the money,” she continued.

Kupukaa finished with a request to legislators: “If you still go forward with passing this bill, are you able to put a gradual increase over four years so our pocketbook will not be dramatically impacted?”

The Hawaii Transportation Association, a trade group for the trucking industry, said in testimony that now is not the time to be adding to their costs of doing business.

“Oahu carriers were hit by the City & County of Honolulu’s increase of the vehicle weight tax in 2010 and this year, boosting or per vehicle cost an average of $400 in 2010 and another $400 this year,” said Gareth Sakakida of the HTA.

A fuel tax increase last year “added about $200 per vehicle per year” in costs, Sakakida continued. “The industry just cannot afford the kind of money you are seeking,” he said.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com