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 Jill Tokuda, one of five Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. The others are Kim Coco Iwamoto, Will Espero, Josh Green and Bernard Carvalho Jr.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

Jill Tokuda
Party Democrat
Age 42
Occupation State senator
Residence Kaneohe

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

National Conference of State Legislatures Education Committee; Council of State Governments Education Policy Task Force; Education Commission of the States; Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education; Complete College of America; Hawaii P-20 Council; Joint Venture Education Forum (collaboration between communities and military families); Smaller Learning Communities Initiatives; Friends of the National Kidney Foundation; 487th Field Artillery Family Awareness Group; Koolau Youth Correctional Facility; Lanakila Meals on Wheels; and State Policy Advisory Board for Elder Affairs.

1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii.  What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?

Addressing homelessness requires a comprehensive plan aimed at transitioning homeless families and persons from illegally inhabiting public and private property to living in permanent housing. To accomplish this, a variety of programs must be directed with two constituencies in mind.

The first constituency is families and persons who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Services for them should include homelessness outreach and community services, Family Assessment Center or homeless shelter with support services, subsidized rental housing with support services. All of this should work toward having those families of individuals in permanent housing.

The second constituency is the general public. They are entitled to clean and safe parks, beaches, and sidewalks. This constituency should be served by enforcement of trespass and illegal camping laws when enough shelters and safe zones are available to accommodate the dislocated homeless persons.

As Ways and Means Committee chair, I introduced packages of bills and supported substantial appropriations on the continuum of services necessary to address homelessness and promote affordable housing development. These actions were prompted by the lessons I learned from homeless advocates and experts while serving on the Governor’s Homelessness Team in the 2015 summer.

2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class?  What could you as lieutenant governor do specifically?

Making housing affordable for Hawaii’s families and residents necessitates an increase of supply by the public and private sectors. Increasing supply requires aggressive action. State government’s primary roles must be to:

  • Provide funding and enter into public-partnerships for affordable housing projects, especially rental housing for low-income families and persons;
  • Provide funding to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to increase its rental housing stock for low-income families and persons;
  • Construct or help private developers construct necessary infrastructure;
  • Facilitate private sector housing development that is consistent with environmental and agricultural preservation, good land use planning, and community values;
  • Maintain the current housing stock for residential use.

I supported Act 39 of the 2018 session which appropriates $200 million to the rental housing trust fund and $10 million to the dwelling unit revolving fund. This followed appropriations of more than $150 million to those funds when I served as WAM chair.

I am especially proud to have introduced Act 127 of the 2016 session, which establishes a goal of developing at least 22,500 affordable rental units by 2026 and establishes a special action team comprised of public and private sector members to recommend actions to meet that goal.

3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention?  Why or why not?

I oppose the convening of a constitutional convention.

The Hawaii Constitution is a good document that sets forth the basic rights of citizens, structure and powers of government, and general policies to guide the state. The constitution has stood the test of time.

My opposition to a constitutional convention is due to a preference for the present deliberative constitutional amendment process.

Under the process, a proposed constitutional amendment is introduced as a bill in the Legislature. If the Legislature approves the bill, the proposed constitutional amendment is submitted to the voters for approval or rejection. Only if approved by a majority of voters does the constitutional amendment take effect.

This process provides for review, discussion, public hearing, and language refinement of each proposed constitutional amendment by the Legislature.

4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?

I am very concerned about the impacts that special interests may have, both in Hawaii and outside of Hawaii, on legislation proposed by initiative. Special interests may be able to spend substantial funds on initiative public relations campaigns. Such spending may sway the vote in their favor against the best interest of the general public.

My firm belief is that proposed legislation should be reviewed and discussed in the formal legislative process. The benefits and detriments of bills become known during legislative hearings and review. The public, government agencies, and private organizations have the opportunity to present and justify their views. Although the legislative process is often criticized, I believe that the Legislature’s deliberations generally result in good decisions on bills that are made in the public interest.

 Moreover, the legislative process in which proposed legislation is considered by multiple committees results in refinement of language, unlike initiative under which substantive language is basically set once certified for the ballot. Much of the review, discussion, deliberation and language refinement would not occur for legislation proposed by initiative.

For these reasons I oppose direct initiative.

5. 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?

A representative democracy requires an informed public. Decisions by government should result from public input and debate based on the best information on the issues. When made in this manner, the legitimacy of governmental decisions is heightened.

I recognize both the frustration of requesters of government records who experience difficulty in obtaining the records and the need for balance in meeting those requests. As a legislator,  I have also have been inconvenienced by time-consuming searches of my records because of broad requests for information.

To improve public access to government records, my general approach would be to work towards the following:

• Posting all non-confidential government records on agencies’ websites in a manner that allows the public to research and gather information on their own;

• Setting policies to prioritize responses to requests of persons with the media like reporters, over requestors who are engaged in “fishing expeditions,” or requesting information available on government websites.

I also would consider supporting additional resources for government agencies and the Office of Information Practices to process government records requests.

6. 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?

The main problem with illegal transient vacation units (TVUs) is the detrimental impact on housing.  To increase the amount of housing available to residents, the current housing stock must be maintained in residential use. It is illogical and wasteful to have any gain of new housing units offset by the loss of current housing stock. Thus, I support restricting the number of permissible TVUs and increased government enforcement efforts against illegal TVUs.

I am especially opposed to the purchase by a person, whether from Hawaii or elsewhere, of an existing residential unit for conversion to a TVU.  

I absolutely support the collection of the rightful amount of state and county taxes owed by legal TVUs.  Obviously, illegal TVUs should be shut down and no TVU taxes should be collected from illegal operators to avoid conferring any sheen of legitimacy on them. I have supported legislation to strengthen and increase the Department of Taxation’s tax collection and enforcement authority and resources, require TVUs to have local contacts and display their ID numbers on website advertisement, and provide for the collection of taxes from TVU operators by their brokers.

7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?

Tourism will continue to be essential for economic growth into the foreseeable future. In the recent past, the Great Recession and other crises evidenced the fragility of tourism. I do not want to experience that problem again.

I believe that the attributes which make Hawaii attractive to visitors also are valued by residents.  Thus, tourism should be “managed” to benefit both residents and visitors.  Public safety must be ensured for all, the environment must be protected in balance with other priority needs, and infrastructure must be improved.

More specifically, I would support the following:

• Enhancing the enforcement of TVUs, especially shutting down illegal ones;

• Collecting the rightful taxes from hotels, time shares, and TVUs;

• Establishing limits on the number of persons allowed to enter sensitive parks and other natural areas, with no preference for visitors over residents;

• Retaining public access to public trails.

8. 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?

In general, I have some concern about the real property tax surcharge on “investment property” to fund public education.

If the constitutional amendment is ratified, my support for the real property tax surcharge will depend upon the specific provisions of the implementing legislation, particularly the definition of “investment property.” The constitutional language is very broad. Conceivably, the language could include any type of property. For example, the legislation could impose the surcharge on affordable residential rental property that generates investment income for the owner and provides affordable housing for families.

I will not support any legislation that 1) imposes the surcharge on residents, whether owner-occupants or renters or 2) defines as “investment property” as any resort, commercial, industrial, or agricultural property and imposes the surcharge on those properties.

I voted “aye” on SB2922 in the Senate so that the constitutional amendment could be placed before the voters. I will vote “yes” on the ballot question.

To reiterate, however, my support for the implementing legislation will depend upon the specific provisions.

9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?

I would keep open the option of using liquified natural gas as a “bridge fuel” until reaching the 100 percent goal of renewable energy use in 2045. While liquified natural gas is a fossil fuel, it is environmentally cleaner than petroleum. Liquified natural gas possibly may be needed to entirely transition from petroleum-generated energy to renewable energy. The feasibility of such transitional use will depend upon the 1) costs to install the necessary infrastructure and import liquified natural gas and 2) progress in the development and installation of renewable energy generation and storage systems and improvement of the electricity distribution grid.

I do share the concerns of those who are worried about LNG being made a permanent major fuel source to generate electricity. I am committed to moving Hawaii forward in meeting our 2045 renewable goal.

10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?

I support measures to prevent or mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change. Proactive actions should be taken to protect Hawaii from rising sea levels and severe weather changes in a manner that balances the economic, safety, housing, and living needs of its people. Actions taken now may prevent future crises, the damages of which would be impossible to remedy or reverse. I would welcome consideration of proposals to increase the shoreline setback and relocate infrastructure inland. This effort should be accompanied by intensive public education that justifies and generates support for new regulations on development that may be costly or restrictive, but well worth the benefit.

I also support reasonable measures to limit carbon and other emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. Although Hawaii emits a miniscule amount of air pollutants relative to the rest of the world, Hawaii must do its share to reduce emissions. I have supported a carbon credit offset program for Hawaii and would consider the feasibility and practicality of establishing a cap-and-trade program here.

11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?

Growing up in humble circumstances, I learned that life is what you make of it. And that’s exactly how I view the office of lieutenant governor: the job is as relevant as its occupant chooses to make it. In my case, I intend to make it a vital center of advocacy and action on behalf of Hawaii’s children, seniors and working families.

I was raised to take responsibility for yourself and those around you. The people elect you to stand up and do the same. I will work with the governor and provide that strong, independent voice working families need in the executive branch. I will focus on action and results, built upon going out into the community and fostering relationships — much like I’ve done over the past 12 years.

I would also look to the future and identify ways to ensure that the lieutenant governor serves as a key leader in the executive branch. For example, chairing the Board of Education, which comprises 25 percent of the state budget, or serving as secretary of state, which regulates business and industry. Then, real questions of leadership and vision can be asked of the lieutenant governor going forward into the future.

12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

My top campaign priority is making Hawaii affordable. Affordability and income equality for Hawaii’s residents are the most significant issues facing our families.  I will support policies that ensure people can live and thrive in Hawaii.  These policies should enhance their capability and opportunity to earn more income and reduce their cost-of-living, especially for housing.

Understanding these struggles is why I have helped working families through the passage of the earned income tax credit and making the food tax credit permanent. I have supported paid family leave for all employees, gender parity in wages, and eliminating or reducing taxes on low-income taxpayers.

Other issues of importance about me are:

  1. I refused to give a blank check for the Honolulu rail project while in the Senate. Instead, I worked toward a funding compromise to complete the project that imposed a temporary hotel tax increase and extended the general excise tax surcharge for only two years, not permanently.  This compromise minimized the tax increase on residents.
  2. I introduced Act 143 to end furlough Fridays for public school students in 2009.  I recognized that students were the primary victims of lost instructional days and was determined to help craft a solution.

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