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.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
Homelessness is a complex issue that requires leadership and the ability to work effectively with all branches of government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/non-profits.
Under my leadership, the governor’s office will partner with the Legislature and NGOs to undertake innovative measures, like the Legislature’s commitment of $30 million toward ohana zones, where the homeless can live and receive critical support services. I will also focus on measures designed to cut off the pipeline(s) to homelessness.
If we focus only on removing the homeless from the streets, we take on a never-ending problem. As governor, I will focus on the systemic causes of homelessness and work to eliminate the conditions that cause people to become homeless in the first place. It means out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to confront housing affordability, wage inequity, inadequate social services and more. I will also actively partner with the counties to remove barriers and facilitate the construction of ohana zones, shelters, transition facilities and new affordable housing units. To do this effectively, the state must adopt and manage to meaningful metrics that empower the state, counties and NGOs to evaluate the success of their policies and programs.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as governor do specifically?
The two high-cost factors contributing to the high cost of housing in Hawaii are land and time (e.g., zoning, permitting, construction). If you are committed, as I am, to solving affordable housing, you must invest in affordable housing and eliminate or reduce the barriers and obstacles to construction that delay delivery to the people.
We have a rare opportunity to expedite affordable housing through Transit Oriented Development (TOD) on Oahu and Smart Growth/Transit-Ready Development on the neighbor islands, but we must combine state, county and private resources to expedite these projects.
As governor, I will also prioritize more affordable housing for our seniors, one of the fastest growing segments of Hawaii’s population. Using state lands in communities with large senior populations, we need to build “congregated living arrangements” focused on the special needs of our seniors — housing close to transportation, medical facilities and service providers, where our kupuna can live and age comfortably with dignity.
I am committed to more affordable housing in a time-frame that matters and I will start by putting the $570 million in the “Bob Nakata Act” quickly to work. I want new construction underway during my first year in office.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
Hawaii’s constitution provides for a constitutional convention question if one has not been on the ballot for nine years in a row, thus 2018. Since statehood, constitutional conventions have occurred in Hawaii in 1968 and 1978. The key is for Hawaii’s voters to be informed on the significance of a constitutional convention and the process involved, as what would be voted on would be decided by delegates elected prior to the convention.
Since I believe constitutions are living documents, I understand the desire by those who believe there is a need to periodically reform the document that serves as the foundation for our state government and its relationship with our citizens. However, I personally do not see the present need and, as such, I do not intend to support a constitutional convention in 2018.
Having said that, I support the will of Hawaii’s people and respect those who believe that periodic consideration of amending our constitution are healthy opportunities to make sure our constitution reflects our culture, values and preferred governance. In either case, I am committed to an informed discussion on proposed changes to our constitution, if any, and I will share my thoughts openly.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
Given our state constitution’s periodic constitutional convention question, in addition to amendments proposed by the Legislature, I do not see the need for a statewide initiative process at this time. I understand the initiative process has been used most recently in the City & County of Honolulu and Kauai County, and I think it is appropriate at the county levels of governance.
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?
No, state unfunded liabilities must continually be assessed and addressed. Those of us seeking leadership positions in government have a fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers to address significant fiscal issues facing the state. In 2013, the Legislature passed Act 268 to establish our annual required contribution per statute. Hawaii was one of the first states to address unfunded liabilities for these Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).
As governor, I will be committed to addressing these state obligations in a manner that honors our contractual commitments to our retirees while looking to future generations for opportunities to reform our plan structures. We should not presume the younger generations share our values and, as such, they may present us with unique opportunities for meaningful plan reformation. I also understand that addressing unfunded liabilities means working with our public sector unions and their membership. I am committed to fairness and honoring our obligations while looking for ways to secure the state’s financial future.
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?
I support transparency in government and the accessibility of government records at a reasonable fee in a reasonable time, a bedrock of our citizens’ right to know what their government is doing. I opposed the Ige administration’s 2017 proposal to treble fees to access public information, and I found the OIP draft rules vague and ineffectual where the goal should have been to provide more certainty to the public versus less.
With the advent of new technologies, government should be able to process requests and respond in a timelier manner, at greater cost efficiencies. As governor, I will issue an administrative directive to my departments which underscores my commitment to transparency and accountability for our actions as public servants, and I will look for ways to improve the process for accessing pubic records.
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?
Yes, illegal B&Bs/TVUs are a problem. I did not support the Ige administration’s efforts to negotiate a nontransparent “voluntary collection agreement” (VCA) with Airbnb prior to the respective counties taking the lead in permitting, regulating and controlling B&Bs/TVUs (home rule). Had the Ige administration entered into a VCA with Airbnb, it would have raised the issue of the state potentially legitimizing otherwise illegal operations.
The failure of the state and counties to resolve this issue to date has resulted in the loss of significant tax revenue and the proliferation of illegal B&Bs/TVUs in communities that are not appropriate for such operations. The counties need to move forward immediately so the state can tax and, as governor, I will work with the counties and the state Legislature to move this issue to resolution, and it will be resolved in a manner that is transparent and open to public discourse.
8. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
If one includes illegal B&Bs/TVUs as part of the state’s tourism industry based the need for room capacity, it has not been managed properly to date as we have illegal/nonconforming business operations and taxable income left uncollected.
As far as the legal tourism industry, tourism numbers are growing to the point that “sustainability” has become an issue. This concern manifests itself in our public spaces and natural resources and their ability to retain their beauty, cultural value and environmental health in light of significant use, if not overuse, by tourists. From inadequate parking to inadequate refuse, water and sewer infrastructure, these issues must be managed and, as governor, I would immediately go to work with the tourism industry, HTA, HLTA and their tourism partners to address these issues and formulate a near-term plan of action and a longer term strategic plan.
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?
I support the school tax constitutional amendment because it gives the voters the opportunity to express their views on whether public education should have a dedicated funding source for its programs. Let there be no mistake, however, this proposed funding source will never cover all of the costs of public education within the state. But it will be a barometer of voters’ sentiment on public education and their commitment to improvements.
I have also previously expressed my concern that the proposed constitutional amendment needs enabling legislation so the people will know how the tax is assessed and how it will be spent. Assuming the amendment passes the Legislature, this will be determined by the same body that has been criticized for failing to appropriate sufficient sums to public education in the past.
10. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
Having consulted with national energy experts, including experts involved with Hawaii’s initial clean energy plan, except for nuclear fuel, I am agnostic to the technology(ies) which will enable Hawaii to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Instead, my commitment to the people of Hawaii is to let Hawaii’s energy sector propose the options by which Hawaii can deliver safer, cleaner, healthier and more cost efficient energy to Hawaii’s residents and businesses every year on the road to 100 percent renewable energy before 2045.
I am concerned that in our rush to achieve 100 percent renewable energy, we have lost focus on economic justice and equity and I believe this component must be weighed alongside “safer, cleaner and healthier.” Metrics are not only important, but they are essential and I will lead a state energy office that will gauge its role and the state’s progress made against strategic plans on a not-less-than annual basis. Everyone will benefit under my plan and I do not condone the state perpetuating an energy system of haves and have-nots.
11. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
I am proud to say that in Congress, I played an active role in the authorization and funding of the Ala Wai Canal Flood Risk Management Project, which has been included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Long Term Disaster Recovery Investment Plan with full project funding in the amount of $345,076,000 via the 2018 supplemental budget.
As governor, I will make sure that the state takes the lead with the University of Hawaii, federal and state agencies, other scientists and environmentalists, to take similar initiatives statewide for the protection of our residents, natural resources, infrastructure and economy. As an island state, Hawaii has been on notice regarding the coming changes associated with climate change and global warming and we can no longer sit back and think.
It is beyond the time to take action and as your governor, I will lead the charge for results versus more studies. We need to be implementing now in preparation for the future.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Under my leadership, I pledge to manage our state with consistency, competency and clarity. I will not tell advocates on both sides of an issue that they have my support. I will not propose budgets that lawmakers call “schizophrenic,” or have them tell me I need to go back to the drawing board. My budgets and actions will reflect the priorities of an administration that is focused on public service, fiduciary obligations to the taxpayers and delivering results and the taxpayers can hold me personally accountable for the actions of my administration.
Making government more transparent and accessible will also be a top priority. I commit to the taxpayers of Hawaii that I will approach every day on the job with a passion for leadership, urgency of action and decisiveness. I will deliver results to the people and I will be accountable for products of my actions. In this you have my word.