Looking for a way to help balance the state budget, Hawaii state lawmakers are considering diverting some of the daily surcharges that tourists and others pay on rental cars, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

A surcharge on airport auto rental customers was increased last September from $1 to $4.50 a day to help finance rental car facility improvements.

Lawmakers can only legally use that money for airport-related proj­ects. With a bill under consideration¾House Bill 1039¾lawmakers would suspend the surcharge and increase a separate surcharge on all rental cars from $3 to $7.50. They would then divert the extra cash to help close the state's deficit.

Under the bill, many residents who rent at other locations would have to pay $4.50 more per day.

Lawmakers would also authorize the state to issue general-obligation bonds to replace the money that was supposed to go toward new rental car facilities at airports. The bonds would require the state to make debt-service payments.

The state Department of Transportation had expected to use the money from the rental car facility surcharge to finance a new complex at Honolulu Airport scheduled for construction next year and completion by 2016. The department planned to sell revenue bonds backed by the surcharge for improvements at airports on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.

The department has been planning a consolidated rental car complex at Honolulu Airport because of complaints from visitors about the cramped, open-air strip now shared by rental car outlets there. Rental car companies have told senators that the rental car facility surcharge is an important source of dedicated revenue for airport improvements.

Meanwhile, an April 26 editorial in the Star Advertiser says that the state should not borrow funds to pay for a new rental car facility. Rather than borrowing money and adding to the finance charges the state might pay, existing funds should be used to underwrite the project's early stages, the editorial states. The editorial calls for passage of House Bill 1039, but says the bond sale should be avoided.