HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
For the first time in more than three decades, the state has raised licensing fees for thousands of realtors and other licensed professionals. And fees for other professions are also finally going up next year.
The last time professional license fees went up in Hawaii George Ariyoshi was governor and Ronald Reagan was president in 1982.
Kealii Lopez, director of the state department of commerce and consumer affairs, said her department badly needs the money from the increased fees to upgrade an antiquated computer system that's about 30 years old.
In October, the state began charging 12,000 licensed real estate professionals and thousands of others such as physical and occupational therapists 23 percent more in license fees.
"Since 1982 to now, the consumer price index has been over 150 percent increase, while our fees have not increased at all over that same period of time," Lopez told Hawaii News Now.
For instance, real estate sales people saw their 2-year license renewals go from $140 to $210 in October.
A second group of licensed professionals, including 27,000 nurses and 700 acupuncturists, will see similar 23 percent license hikes by June, Lopez said.
"The staff has worked really hard to keep the cost of doing business here in Hawaii as low as it possibly can, so they've been very responsible and judicious about that. However, we're definitely at a point where we need to move that forward," Lopez added.
Lopez said her department's 1980's-era licensing computer software is based on old Wang computer technology and is antiquated, slow and cumbersome.
“We can't cut and paste data,” she said, referring to basic tasks that are routine in computers today.
The money from the license fee increases will pay for a badly needed computer upgrade, she said.
"So you have something that was built in the 80's that definitely isn't prepared for the 21st century," Lopez said.
Kay Mukaigawa, who's been a realtor for 30 years and is the principal broker and president of Primary Properties, supports the fee increase.
"In this age of technology, it just makes sense. So It think it's a good thing," Mukaigawa said. "Such a long time, over 30 years and the increase is really reasonable, I feel. I think a lot of people don't even realize it went up. It's been so nominal."
State Sen. Sam Slom, the State Senate's lone Republican who always opposes tax and fee increases, said this is one of few fee hikes he believes is reasonable.
"They've done a good job. As long as they continue a good job, they update and improve their computer system, I think it's a win-win," Slom said.
The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs is self-sustaining, meaning it does not use tax dollars but relies on fees to cover all its operating costs.
The department plans to hold public hearings on making permanent fee renewal hikes for 130,000 licensees and should complete that process by the end of next year. The fees, which ranged from $35 to $200 for 2-year licenses, will be raised in varying amounts, Lopez said.
Lopez said she has not heard of complaints from any of the professional groups that have had license fee hikes.
"Once we explained that the fees have not been increased for around 30 years, they've been absolutely understanding,"she said.