Con Am dies in conference; Rosenlee thanks teacher lobbying effort

The HSTA’s Constitutional Amendment proposals to create an investment property and visitor accommodation surcharge to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for public schools died Thursday when State House and Senate negotiators were unable to reach agreement. The measures did not emerge from a House-Senate conference committee and are dead for this legislative session.

“I want to thank teachers and many others for their hard work,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA’s president, noting “Teachers were able to generate close to 4,000 pieces of testimony, well over 1,000 emails, and a successful lobby day. I especially want thank our hard working Government Relations Committee members and teacher lobbyist Mitzie Higa, who worked tirelessly on this effort.”

“Even though we may not have been successful this year, we must continue to fight to improve funding for our public schools, and to give our keiki the schools they deserve,” Rosenlee added. “We also appreciate support we received throughout the community and from many legislators.”

While Senate negotiators at Thursday’s meeting were prepared to advance the bills, a few House negotiators raised vague objections about potential legal challenges. Others said lawmakers were reluctant to allow the public to vote on a new tax when they were already considering extending Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge to pay for the increasing costs of the city’s rail transit project.

State Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate education committee, who introduced the Con Am proposal in the Senate, disagreed and called the legal concerns irrelevant.

“Bringing up these ghosts serves only to distract from the true issue at hand,” Kidani said. “We come across roadblocks every day in what we do. And in this case, if the courts want to challenge it, let them challenge it. But I think we should do our duty and protect the opportunity for educational funds for our keiki.”

“I want it for the record that the Senate was willing to be here, counted for, and to pass out this bill,” Kidani added. “Unfortunately, the House did not agree, and the hopes for our keiki and funding for our education (are) dead.”

Rosenlee said, “A few lawmakers decided not to give the public a chance to vote on whether they want to fund the schools our keiki deserve, even though our polling shows that two-thirds of the voters would have supported this Constitutional Amendment.”

“The last two years have shown that legislators will not vote to increase funding for our schools, nor will they allow the public to vote. Our legislators must make education a priority. If they did not support the Constitutional Amendment, what are their solutions to our chronically underfunded public school system?” Rosenlee said. “Our keiki can’t wait any longer.”