Chief Justice Ronald Moon
HONOLULU -- Only Hawaii's county officials, not its taxpayers, can set property-tax rates, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in a split opinion last week.
The Justices ruled 3-2 that a 2004 charter amendment passed by voters in the county of Kauai setting a property-tax rate cap breached Hawaii's 1978 state constitution.
In County of Kauai v. Bryan J. Baptiste et al. & Gordon G. Smith et al. (docket# 27351) the Supreme Court upheld a Fifth Circuit Court ruling in 2005 that the charter amendment was unconstitutional.
"Because [it] usurps the county government's/county council's 'functions, powers and duties relating to the taxation of real property,' we hold that the Charter Amendment is unconstitutional," wrote Chief Justice Ronald Moon, with Justices Steven Levinson and Paula Nakayama.
But dissenting Justice Simeon Acoba, joined by Justice James Duffy accused the minority of "manipulating the lawsuit so as to create a controversy that did not in fact exist."
"The only way the merits in this case are reached by the majority is through the manipulation of the parties and the lawsuit -- a course that, in my view, fosters unwise and dangerous precedent," Acoba wrote.
Ohana Kauai (OK), the group that brought the original charter, charged the County with pulling legal fast ones to bring the case to the Supreme Court, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.
"Kauai officials sued each other to invalidate [the charter], with the county attorney representing both sides of the case," OK attorney Robert H. Thomas of Pacific Legal Foundation told the Advertiser. "We're disappointed the court allowed this fabricated lawsuit to go forward."
The Hawaii Reporter went further, slamming the opinion as "anti-democratic" in a column last week. "The Court decided that the voters are not the proper or appropriate authority to make that decision," the author wrote.
"This paternalistic interpretation of government ... is directly opposed to the fundamental reason why we had a revolution in 1776."