Maui County Budget
Mayor Bissen’s 2024 budget proposal now under Council consideration.
Folks are asking if Mayor Bissen’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024 addresses “Kama‘āina Prosperity” he pledged to tackle during last year’s mayoral campaign. The answer to this question will be different, depending on one’s point of view. His proposed budget may provide insight whether the promises made will, in fact meet the needs of our hard-working families.
Mayor Bissen’s budget proposal submitted to the County Council on March 24 is a blueprint as to how the County will spend its limited financial resources in order to have a long-lasting positive impact on Maui’s quality of life. The budget total is a whopping $1.227 billion, making it the highest budget in our County’s history to date and is a slight increase from the previous total. The bulk of it is for operating expenses amounting to approximately $930 million or 85 percent of the total, and capital improvements, totaling $149 million or 15 percent of the budget.
In my previous editorials, I have repeatedly highlighted the many issues and challenges facing our hard-working families, requiring immediate attention. The top three are: 1) lack of affordable housing; 2) homelessness and unsheltered residents; and 3) the high cost of living. A brief review of the budget proposal identifies some specific actionable items and some not specific but mentioned briefly in the Mayor’s message to the Council.
Let’s begin with the issue of affordable housing. In his State of the County Address, the Mayor proposed to increase the Affordable Housing Fund from the existing 3 percent contribution of certified property tax revenue to 8 percent, earmarking about $43 million, which “would provide 452 affordable housing units for our residents.” With the current demand for housing at its peak of 14,000 units, the proposed budget will barely make a dent in addressing our housing crisis. On the bright side, this is a good start, and I hope it will lead to a more robust appropriation in the future.
Another issue needing urgent attention and support is the plight of unsheltered individuals and families—that segment of our community who desperately need our compassionate care. A recent report indicates there were over 700 unsheltered individuals as of the end of 2022. Sadly, there are no specific appropriations to build decent housing units for these folks in the current proposal, as far as I could find in my search.
A third issue is the high cost of living. Despite many of our family members having multiple jobs, it is difficult for them to make ends meet. These residents survive paycheck to paycheck and often live with anxiety, depression and increasing health issues. To address this problem, the Mayor’s proposed budget calls for a reduction in taxes paid for by owner-occupied homes that are valued at $3 million and below and to lower the mandatory property tax on $300. This new action is intended to support residents who make the island their home.
There may be additional options to be considered, like suspending the County fuel tax, reducing fees for vehicle registration, providing County subsidies for childcare, and free bus rides to and from work and more common sense ideas that will lower the cost of living.
Finally, many leading economists believe there is a good possibility a recession will hit the U.S. sometime this year. Since Maui is highly dependent on visitor dollars, a recession will have a severe economic impact on our working families.
While the Council deliberates the Mayor’s budget proposal, residents are encouraged to share your comments and suggestions to help fine tune the final outcome, to further ensure the proposed budget will truly address the challenges that residents face daily.
The Council has until early June 2023 to approve the budget. Now is the time to provide your written comments and suggestions or better still, your direct testimony at the Maui County Council meetings. Take action today!