LIHUE (AP) - Large agriculture companies and landowners on Kauai could pay higher property taxes under a bill that would create a new tax class for lands used to research and develop crops.
County Councilman Tim Bynum introduced the legislation, The Garden Island reported Thursday.
The current tax law was never meant for large agriculture, Bynum said. The companies "should never have been eligible" for the tax incentives they are currently receiving, he said.
"This is simply a bill that asks the question, 'Is this ag activity that we want to incentivize with tax benefits that impact the County of Kauai and what other taxpayers pay?' " Bynum said.
If passed, the "agronomics" rate classification would include parcels that are "used for no other purpose than science, research and development of crops" and which "do not directly gain monetary profit from the ultimate consumer."
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, the trade group representing Hawaii's agricultural seed industry, said the proposal singles out a subset of local agriculture and would send a negative signal to any industry that relies on innovation to create jobs and contribute to the local economy.
"Business sectors should not be targeted for discriminatory treatment," the association wrote in testimony.
Charles Okamoto, president of Kauai landowner Gay and Robinson, called the bill's purpose "horrifying" and "fatally flawed."
"The County of Kauai should be providing the agricultural sector more help instead of hindering their progress and this proposed bill (is) just another hindrance," he wrote.
State Board of Agriculture Chairman Scott Enright and Agribusiness Development Corp. Executive Director James Nakatani said the legislation would create uncertainly for landowners who lease land to businesses that rotate seed crops with biofuel crops, ranching, vegetable and other fresh market crops.
But Bryna Storch of Lanipo Farm in Puhi said there is a tremendous difference between her farm's agricultural activities and the corporate activities conducted for research and patented product development.
"Agronomic activities should not receive the benefit of the lower agricultural taxes extended to true farms which provide tangible and local public benefits," she wrote.
Separately, Kauai County Clerk Ricky Watanabe rejected a Kauai Rising petition for a charter amendment aimed at regulating the agrochemical industry. Watanabe cited technical reasons for his decision, saying the group didn't use a form provided to it. Kauai Rising has until July 2 to recollect 2,037 voter signatures.