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Experts raise state revenue forecast

By Nanea Kalani; Star-Advertiser; September 8, 2017

Economic experts tasked with forecasting Hawaii’s tax collections say the state’s revenue will grow at a slightly higher rate over the next two years, bringing in roughly $40 million more than previously expected.

The state Council on Revenues voted Thursday to revise its growth prediction for the current fiscal year to 4.3 percent from 4 percent, citing continued growth in the tourism and construction industries. That would put the state on track to collect more than $6.62 billion this year in taxes.

The council — whose members include economists, accountants and business executives — made the same upward adjustment for the year that begins July 1, revising its previous 4 percent growth forecast to 4.3 percent.

The council meets quarterly to set revenue estimates for the general fund — the state’s treasury filled by the general excise tax, individual income tax and transient accommodations tax, among other collections.

The panel’s projections form the basis for the state budget. Each full percentage point of growth or shrinkage represents $65 million to $70 million in revenues.

“Tourism numbers are coming in way above anybody’s forecast. … There’s some reason to think that (construction) is a little better than what we were thinking six months ago. The job numbers look like they’re coming in so far this year at about 1 percent growth,” said University of Hawaii economics professor Carl Bonham, who serves on the council.

July marked the 14th straight month of visitor arrival and spending gains, with arrivals climbing by 7 percent to 891,878 visitors and spending increasing 10 percent to $1.6 billion, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority statistics released last week.

Ed Case, a lobbyist for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts who sits on the council, cautioned that visitor arrivals aren’t the best gauge of increased tax revenue.

“Yes, there has been substantial increases in visitor arrivals and certain categories of expenditures,” Case said. “We have visitor arrivals going up, but we have visitor stays going down.”

Still, he agreed with fellow members that the tourism sector — and the transient accommodations tax — will continue benefiting the economy in the near term. Hotel room tax collections in July were up nearly 24 percent compared with last year, according to early figures from the state Tax Department.

Following the Council on Revenues’ revised projection, Wes Machida, the state’s budget director, said he’s still taking a cautious approach to this fiscal year.

“There’s only been a month’s worth of collections. As in the past, things have been extremely volatile from month to month and from quarter to quarter,” Machida said.

The council’s forecast will be used by Gov. David Ige’s administration to craft a proposed budget for next year to be submitted in late December ahead of the 2018 legislative session.

Machida said that while the council’s reports have historically been on the conservative side, “all indications are projecting economic growth to slow.”

“We will still be cautious about programs and add-ons in terms of any significant impacts to the budget until we have a better idea as to whether those collections for the year will transpire,” he said.

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