Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Ray L’Heureux, one of three Republican candidates for governor. The others are John S. Carroll and Andria Tupola.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
I commend your use of the word “reduce.” Many of the candidates running in 2018 have used the word “solve,” and I truly believe you will never solve the issue in the dictionary sense of the word. Reduce, manage, mitigate, even control are some of the descriptors I would use when addressing homelessness.
In addressing the problem you need to firstly admit it exists in many different sub-cultures. A one-size-fits-all approach is not the well-thought-out approach. The main sub-groups as I see them (there may be more), are those who suffer some degree of mental illness, those addicted to drugs, displaced veterans, the “down and outers,” those who choose to live off the streets and immigrant families.
An outside-the-box solution to shelter (feasibility study would need to be done) would be this: making the assumption that there would be resources available to build new shelters, why could we not repurpose some of the aging portables our children are learning in, some of them decades old, and use the appropriated funds to replace those portables with 21st century classrooms, (the fourth generation modular classrooms are marvels).
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as governor do specifically?
When I look at the cost of living in Hawaii, and pay attention to the “air time” it receives locally and nationally, I begin to compartmentalize what those costs boil down to. If you take housing out of the equation, Hawaii is not all that unaffordable.
As you know the middle class is dwindling. We are losing the ability for our current middle class to afford to remain so, and it is directly related to the percentage of income(s) that go directly to housing. We will not change the market.
The one variable in the equation we can change is how much income a person has at his or her disposable to meet the present cost of living. Let’s take tax liability on for a moment. What if there was no GET on rent? The tenant probably does not realize there is a 4.72 percent GET tax on rent, the landlord pays for it, but it comes out of his or her pocket. We need to find the solutions within the existing framework of the budget. There is no “extra money” to build houses, other than increased taxes, which is one of the reasons why we are in this mess to begin with.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I absolutely support a state constitutional convention. Why? Why not! Our state constitution is very young. Amendments and re-examination with checks and balances are critical to democracy and proper governance. An example of that would be the change/amendment in 2010 that made the governor’s office responsible and accountable for the delivery of public education. It provided for the governor to appoint a school board rather than we the people elect a school board.
This model works for Hawaii because of the nature of our state-run district. My concern would be that caucuses from both parties would need to engage and bring sound referendum to the public to either approve or disapprove by our vote. There has been apathy in the past in doing so. If our government is not totally represented at the convention, then it really isn’t a constitutional convention.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
The League of Women’s Voters, a civic minded group, works tirelessly to get citizens involved, engaged, and to the polls. From a civics standpoint, I think we should start there. If we don’t go through the process of “issue engagement” and “enlightenment of the voter,” we could have a very crowded ballot if issues were directly added, which could cause further voter confusion.
Though I don’t oppose an initiative process that could put issues on the ballot, I think we need to first increase awareness of low voter turnout and get more people engaged in the voting process. The ballot initiatives would come naturally after that, progressively.
5. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
I am neither comfortable nor satisfied with the state’s unfunded liability, or the plan to address it. This issue is the elephant in the room whenever there is any real discussion regarding the budget, economy, or cost of living for that matter. The unfunded liability for government pensions and post-retirement healthcare in Hawaii is approximately $25 billion, a staggeringly large number for such a small state.
Obviously, government in past years was not putting enough money aside, but the core problem is that fringe benefits provided government workers in Hawaii have long been dramatically more generous than the fringe benefits provided by most private-sector employers. It amounts to a huge weight on the table that Hawaii’s political leaders ignore because of the political clout of Hawaii’s government-worker unions. I would be interested to see the difference between the private sector contribution and the public sector. My sense is that it is stark. An unintended consequence of an unfunded system is the compulsory enrollment of any state employee. With cost of living so high, it may very well be the employee’s decision to make.
6. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
First of all I firmly believe that public records are just that … public. To the extent possible, state agencies should make records, especially those relating to budgets visible. Unfortunately, when public records are requested, those requests can be met with apathy, intentional “slow-rolling”, or just plain being ignored.
I can appreciate, however, the challenges the Office of Information Practices faces, specifically as it attempts to change the administrative rule governing the execution of the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) Chapter 92F which it appears has not been updated since 1998. To change the rule, a public hearing will have to take place and I believe an unreasonable hike in fees would be contested during this hearing. I support the nominal fee that is currently charged as set forth in rule, but I would have to see clear analysis as to why there needs to be a significant jump in fees.
There are specifically hired state employees that do nothing but pull information that has been requested through the 92F process. In essence the taxpayer is already paying for the service provided by each state office in the salaries of those employees. With regards to information requiring materialistic copying or merging of the specific information requested, that cost should convey to the requester, within reason.
7. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what do you propose to do about it?
I see this as a problem only in the sense that we have not “process-ized” the market. The state in my estimation should collect tax revenue from the “home-sharing” market just as every other vacation market does … globally. Much like ride-hailing/sharing, the market (you and me) decided this is a service we want and the rest is history. The market has demonstrated it wants/desires/needs this service and it will probably not go away.
The question now is how to bring it into the fold. If the taxi/bus lobby could find room for the Uber/Lyft markets, then the visitor industry can find room for the vacation home market. There are neighborhoods that have had issues with large homes being rented to large groups that are “on vacation” and behave as such. That can and should be a neighborhood issue. For the most part, I believe the density of those vacation homes in question is predominantly Waikiki and the Windward side, and less dense areas throughout the rest of the state.
The state is not in a fiscal position to ignore a potential revenue stream, and it is not in a position to stop the market, so it may as well get on board with the rest of the globe and embrace what clearly the market has demanded, especially as a predominantly visitor industry based state.
8. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
I believe it is. Can there be improvement and deeper market exploration? Sure, but I do believe the “management” aspect is doing all it can given the resources they have to market Hawaii. I was privileged to sit on the Oahu Visitor’s Bureau for the calendar year 2017. I learned so much and was impressed with the zeal by which the industry worked to open more markets and protect the ones that exist today.
I think there could be more transparent changes made to HTA’s governance policies in that it spends tax dollars (fiscal transparencies), but overall I do believe in the folks that take on this task. Where I think we could do better as an ancillary topic is making sure we are prepared for “the rainy day.” The visitor industry feeds our economy. It is a “mile wide and an inch thick” and susceptible/vulnerable to mass fluctuation caused by weather events, labor events, or economic events affecting our largest markets.
Additionally, we need to watch just how much we tax our visitor. TAT/rental car tax, and other tax burdens on the visitor could have unintended consequences. The largest slice of the pie with regards to the visitor population is still the mainland, and that market understands taxes, and other options such as home sharing.
9. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?
As a fiscal conservative, less government, and no new taxes kind of guy, my spring-loaded answer would be no. I think the concept has merit but has not been well thought out. If you compare and contrast property taxes across the nation, Hawaii has a relatively low comparison. The municipal school districts across the nation survive on the higher property tax bases within their own jurisdictions. Hawaii relies unilaterally on the general fund for its operating budget, and its 44 percent-ish share of the state’s capital budget.
My sense is the public is generally in support of some added tax revenue allocated directly to public education, but they are mostly wary and untrusting of that allocation actually being spent on public education. Not only that, there is more angst derived from the notion that the Legislature would factor the tax revenue source to the DOE and hit them for it elsewhere in their budget such that it would be a “zero-sum-game” for monies, but the taxpayer now has added tax burden.
If it does pass, I would put measures in place that ensure the revenue is additive and not “in-place-of”. As a matter of transparency, I answered this question in the same way during my HSTA candidate interview. The executive director of HSTA was the chief proponent of this bill, and lobbied heavily.
10. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
I am a huge proponent of renewable sources of energy. I was extremely proud of my work at the DOE in architecting the “Energy Efficiency Sustainability Master Plan,” which later was rebranded as “KaHei.” Hawaii’s energy companies charge the highest rates for electricity in the nation, and that is not sustainable for the average resident already burdened with the highest cost of living in the country. The LNG market could add some relief to this issue, but remains controversial because of the fracking process, which would have to be explored with regards to consequences to the environment.
11. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
Hawaii should continue its awareness programs and initiatives to monitor and respond to rising sea levels and erosion. The earth’s cyclical climate shifts, coupled with man-made and natural (volcanic eruption) influences will continue to affect certain aspects of the planet’s natural disposition to change. The preservation of reefs and our beaches is critical to our local environment and should at all times be monitored and have sound mitigation processes in place.
There are cutting edge technologies being used in other nations and in some states that not only lessen erosion, but also actually promotes growth in new coral reefs and habitats. We continually as a state spend a lot of money to dredge the ocean floor and carry the sand back to the beach. There are fourth-generation methods that are less costly and more effective that we as a state should be employing. I would most certainly begin that process.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Many of the answers I have provided to the preceding 11 questions speak to my main campaign priorities, public education, infrastructure and economy. But I believe one of the main concerns for the voting public is: “Can I continue to survive off this economy, or do I have to move elsewhere in order to afford a standard of living I am accustomed to.”
Hawaii is experiencing dire times. Never have we seen such a separation in class in Hawaii, where those at the top continue to do well, those on the bottom continue to bottom out, and those in the middle are leaving or struggling to maintain ground.
The same old political ideology of “take from here and give to here” no matter who you take from will continue as status quo. It does not matter how hard you work to provide for your family, we are still going to take from you in order to “give over here.” Put another way, the rate of taxation, given our debt and unfunded liability, will never lessen in any measurable way, and any progress or improvement to lessening that gap with the current status quo government in place is very unlikely.
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