After gaining approval from the state House of Representatives, a bill to use a portion of state conveyance tax revenue to fund the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission has cleared two Senate committees, passed second reading and has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Introduced by East Maui Rep. Mele Carroll, House Bill 2101 won the approval of the Senate Committees of Hawaiian Affairs and Water and Land on Wednesday.
In an announcement of the bill's progress from Carroll, she said the bill aims to tap revenue from the state conveyance tax to replenish the Kaho'olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund. That fund pays for the long-term rehabilitation and maintenance of the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve. The Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission draws most of its funding from the trust fund created in 1994 during the federal unexploded ordinance cleanup of Kahoolawe, formerly used as a bombing range by the U.S. military, Carroll said.
The federal appropriation is running out of money and is expected to be depleted by 2016 if another source of funding isn't found to replenish it.
Commission Executive Director Michael Naho'opi'i said that when the state accepted the return of Kahoolawe in 1994, it took on the responsibility (he quoted from "Kaho'olawe Island: Restoring a Cultural Treasure") to "preserve and protect a corner of their state so that future generations can become familiar with their island's past human and natural heritage."
"For many Native Hawaiians and others, Kahoolawe is a special place that has been sanctified by the loss of life in a struggle between traditional values and Western concepts of land use and management."
Naho'opi'i said that "it is our conviction that accountability must be assumed by the state; it has a responsibility to the people of Hawaii and their future to preserve and protect Kahoolawe."
He asked that the effective date of the bill be changed to July 1 of this year and that the percentage of the conveyance tax be set at 10 percent.
The current version of the bill has the effective date as July 1 and sets aside 10 percent of the conveyance tax for the Kahoolawe fund. However, there's a cap of no more than $3.5 million per fiscal year, and the repeal date was changed to June 30, 2020, or when there's recognition of a sovereign Native Hawaiian governing entity, whichever comes first.
Michele Chouteau McLean, chairwoman of the commission and deputy director of the Maui County Department of Planning, submitted written testimony in favor of establishing a long-term funding source for the restoration and management of Kahoolawe and its surrounding waters.
She said there's an "urgency and importance of providing this secure, short-term source of funding."
Federal money that established the trust fund was intended for the short term, McLean said, and, according to the conveyance commission's final report to Congress in 1993, the federal funds would support soil conservation projects and other activities on the island, but, in the longer term (according to the report), "state revenues will be needed to continue and enhance those activities initiated with federal funds."
Conveyance tax revenue already supports the state's Land Conservation and Natural Area Reserve funds, McLean said. "Both mirror the mission of the Kaho'olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund," she added.
Without a secure funding source, Kahoolawe restoration programs could continue for "perhaps two years," McLean said. "With 25 percent of the island remaining uncleared of unexploded ordnance, a continued round-the-clock, 24/7 presence on Kahoolawe is needed to ensure the protection of the general public," she said.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila Jr. said that dedicated funding is critical for the protection of state natural resources, watershed protection and the state's land management and acquisition activities, "including defending important conservation areas against threats from development and invasive species and also by restoring these areas by planting native species and monitoring recovery."
State Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young said that conveyance tax revenue is distributed among four sources: 10 percent to the land conservation fund, 25 percent to the natural area reserve fund, 30 percent to the rental housing fund and 35 percent to the general fund.
"The general fund revenue decline that would result from this legislation is currently not accounted for in the state's six-year general fund financial plan," he said.
Carroll said that she was pleased her bill gained support, so far, from state senators.
"Protecting and preserving Kahoolawe is important not only to Native Hawaiian culture, but to the entire state of Hawaii, so we can continue to teach our history and carry on the restoration and conservation efforts," she said.
Carroll's 13th House District includes Kahoolawe, East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.