Editor’s Note: In September 2012, Civil Beat sent six questions to each of the candidates running in the Nov. 6 general election for Hawaii Legislature. The questions and answers are reproduced below in full. Click on each topic listed below to read Civil Beat’s question and the candidate’s response. We’ve also put together a full list of who’s on the general election ballot.

Preferred Candidate Name: Rep. Sharon Har

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Senate/House District Number: House District 42

Date of Birth: 01/13/70

Place of Birth/Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Current Profession/Employer: Attorney at Law, Bays Lung Rose & Holma, Honolulu, HI

Education/Alma Mater(s): Juris Doctor, William S. Richardson School of Law, Honolulu, HI.; Bachelor of Arts, Politics, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.

1. With the exception for Honolulu rail, the state has not raised the general excise tax in decades. Would you consider increasing the GET to help the state meet its budget demands?

No, I oppose an increase in the general excise tax. As the state’s economy continues to recover, I believe that a general excise tax increase would counteract economic recovery efforts by increasing the cost of living in Hawaii. In particular, a general excise tax increase would have a detrimental impact on our retirees (who are on fixed incomes) and on our middle and lower-income families. Finally, an increase in the general excise tax would increase the cost of doing business in Hawaii, further hampering our economic recovery. I believe it is incumbent upon government to spend hard-earned tax dollars wisely. With massive shortcomings in fiscal responsibility (i.e. mismanaged school bus contracts, the Stevie Wonder debacle), it is insulting to go back to our taxpayers and ask them for more money. ↩ back to top

2. Lawmakers proposed relaxing environmental regulatory review to spur development and job growth in the 2012 session, and the issue is expected to resurface next year. Where do you stand?

During a recession, private sector infrastructure projects become non-existent due to market forces which include decreased lending by financial institutions. It is therefore incumbent upon government to proceed with infrastructure projects in order to ensure the viability of the construction industry (which is an integral part of a healthy economy) while mitigating the negative effects on the State’s economy. Beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2011, the State of Hawaii experienced the worst fiscal crisis ever known in our history including shortfalls of $2.1 Billion, more than double the shortfall after 9/11. Even with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds infused into the State along with the issuance of increased general obligation bonds, infrastructure projects were not being delivered and therefore these funds were not being infused into our economy to offset the recession. The House of Representatives examined the reason for the hold up only to discover that a myriad of duplicative environmental regulations were the cause. Specifically, there are duplicative regulations at the federal, state and county levels. Accordingly, proposals introduced preserved ALL environmental and cultural protections while they sought to eliminate duplication in the review process specifically for state infrastructure. Moreover, the proposals focused on infrastructure projects that predominantly dealt with protecting the health and safety of our public such as repair and maintenance of ailing bridges, commercial harbor improvements, and runway improvements at our airports. To be clear, the proposals preserved current levels of environmental review while eliminating wasteful and repetitive government oversight. It makes no sense to have duplicative levels of environmental review which are now protracting the length of time it takes to complete infrastructure projects completed, adding to the costs of these infrastructure projects because time is money, and hampering our economic recovery, while further jeopardizing the safety of our residents. Project delays only increase the cost of a project and as a reminder, these increased costs are ultimately paid for by our constituents – – the taxpayers. ↩ back to top

3. Gambling — are you for it or against it? If not, why not? If so, what type of gambling and with what kind of restrictions?

I am amenable to limited forms of gambling as a means of infusing additional funds into our State’s economy and because I do not support a GET increase. Limited types of gambling would allow Hawaii to infuse additional revenue into our economy by creating jobs for our local residents, would ensure that some of our local dollars stay in Hawaii as opposed to Las Vegas, and would create a revenue-stream from this industry. I am open to limited forms of gambling such as the lottery, one stand-alone casino in Waikiki, or gambling cruises. While I would consider one stand-alone land-based casino, I am more amenable to gambling cruises such as the riverboats which operate in Shreveport, Louisiana or Joliet, Illinois. These gambling “riverboats” charge customers for a two-hour cruise and are required by law to operate off-land (e.g. on the water). Once the cruise is finished, passengers are required to disembark and buy another ticket should they choose to gamble on the next cruise. These types of requirements make it more onerous to gamble for hours on end. Finally, I would require that a majority of revenues from gambling be set aside specifically for public education as our public education system takes up a sizable portion of the State’s budget. ↩ back to top

4. The Sunshine Law is a hallmark of an open democracy accountable to its citizens. Yet, the Legislature exempts itself from this requirement. Do you support more transparency in government operations, or are there legitimate reasons to conduct some of the people’s business behind closed doors?

I ardently support transparency in government operations. To that end, the House of Representatives has rules in place that require public notice for hearings, open committee hearings to the public, and transparent voting during legislative sessions. The issue with the Legislature is the timetable upon which we must abide. No other agency, board or commission faces this restricted calendar. Since we have only 60 legislative days in which to conduct business, compliance with the Sunshine Law becomes virtually impossible because it requires six days posting of notice before any hearing can commence. If this were the case, the time period in which the Legislature operates would have to be extended beyond May because otherwise, the Legislature would miss key deadlines. The voters of Hawaii should decide if it is a priority to extend the legislative session via a constitutional amendment. But until that time, I continue to support the Sunshine Law as it applies to all other agencies, boards and commissions because they do not have the timeline issues the Legislature faces. ↩ back to top

5. What is the best legislation — and worst legislation — that the Legislature has approved in recent years? Please explain.

Best Legislation: While most people do not consider the state budget as “legislation” per se, the state budget is in fact a bill that goes through the entire legislative process as any other bill. As such, I believe the best legislation that was approved by the Legislature were the budget bills of 2009, 2010, and 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession. In each of those fiscal years, the State suffered severe economic shortfalls up to $2.1 Billion, yet we submitted a balanced budget by eliminating programs which were not deemed core government functions (i.e. public safety, education, health and human services) and without raising the general excise tax. Another bill I consider “best legislation” was Act 163 (2011), which dealt with making various revisions to the Employment Retirement System (ERS) in order to maintain the continued viability of the ERS and to reduce the State’s unfunded liability.

Worst Legislation: In the 2012 legislative session, the Legislature passed Act 126 (HB2296) that prohibited the purchase, sale or transportation of any product containing bear gallbladders or bear gallbladders. As an animal rights supporter, I absolutely believe in the protection of animals. However, the last time I checked, Hawaii does not have a native bear population that is endangered from having their gallbladders or bile removed for use in products that will be sold in Hawaii. This is an example of “feel-good” legislation which does not apply in the State of Hawaii and has absolutely no bearing on our state laws (for this reason, I voted against this measure). It is within the purview of the Legislature to pass laws, but while education dollars were being squandered, while the State Historic Preservation Division was purchasing iPads, and while our island residents sit daily in the worst traffic in the nation, the Legislature wasted time debating laws such as HB2296 that have no impact on Hawaii. In fact, there is rumor that next session, the Legislature will pass landmark laws to protect our island’s endangered glaciers. ↩ back to top

6. What is an issue that you would champion at the Legislature — one that perhaps has not received much attention, or an issue that is important to your district?

Like all residents of the Second City, I bought into the dream that government promised. The dream of a new city – – where we could buy an affordable home – – so that we could live, work, play, and safely raise our families. While government asked residents to move west in order to alleviate the congestion in the urban core, it failed to live up to its promises to the people of the Second City. These promises included basic infrastructure, transportation choices, and jobs for our residents. Since taking office, I have worked hard to hold government accountable to West Oahu residents by building more infrastructure (including roads and schools), while spurring economic development to create jobs for our residents so that they do not have to commute. But at the end of the day, many of the issues in our Second City were a result of poor land use planning. I continue to submit that the Legislature must do more to promote smart growth development which is an urban and transportation planning tool that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid urban sprawl. We must encourage more compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use policies which include complete streets particularly near our neighborhood schools, mixed-use development with a range of housing choices, and preservation of open space such as parks and recreational areas. Smart growth principles are directed at building sustainable communities that are desirable places to live, work, and play by creating a better “sense of place,” by providing jobs for residents, increase property values, improve quality of life, expand the tax base, preserve open space, control growth in population, and improve safety. I would like to continue working on smart growth development initiatives from the perspective of state policy, to ensure better land use planning and a better quality of life for our future generations. ↩ back to top