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 Troy Hashimoto, one of four Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives District 8, which covers Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku and Waikapu. The others are Justin Hughey, Dain Kane and Mary Wagner.
1. Should the Legislature be more transparent and accountable? What would you do, given how tough it can be for individual lawmakers to go against leadership, to bring about needed reform in areas like sexual harassment policies, lobbyist regulation, fundraising during session and televising and archiving all hearings?
There is always room for additional transparency and accountability in government. Developing change takes collaboration and convincing a majority of legislators that reforms are needed through thoughtful solutions. Drastic change may not come quickly, but there must be continual and incremental reforms, which can slowly add up over time. I am committed to continually chipping away at improving the way government operates in an open and transparent manner.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
In general, I do support a citizens initiative process, but like many other issues, details matter in creating a process that is fair and cannot be easily influenced by big money interests.
3. Hawaii has the most lopsided Legislature in the country, with no Republicans in the Senate and only five in the House. How would you ensure there is an open exchange of ideas, transparency and accountability for decisions? What do you see as the consequences of one-party control, and how would you address that?
Although there are very few Republicans, there are various factions within the Legislature which provide for varying opinions and views. A way to increase transparency and accountability is to hold additional public decision-making meetings and even possibly subjecting the Legislature to various provisions of the Sunshine Law.
This will have to be balanced however, with lengthening the legislative session along with added costs to take into account the additional time needed to operate in this new manner. However, public discourse versus private discussion on matters will likely hold legislators more accountable to the public.
4. Would you support more frequent campaign finance reporting during election years, particularly before the primary? What other steps would you take to improve lobbying and financial disclosures?
I would support additional reporting before the primary, but this must be balanced with the type of race. Many smaller races have limited resources to complete additional reporting, but larger, islandwide or statewide races have the ability for additional reporting. In addition, in testimony, it should be a requirement for lobbyists to disclose their affiliation. More enforcement is also needed to ensure all lobbyists are properly registered and financial disclosures are accurate.
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?
In my experience working at the county level with public records requests, all requests have been made available in a timely manner, often time with fees waived. If state agencies are interpreting the law differently, it may be a matter of clearing up how the Uniform Information Practices Act is followed. However, most government records are public and should be treated in such a manner.
6. 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?
Working for the County of Maui before being appointed to the Legislature, I have been tracking the state’s unfunded liability. There are tremendous costs and the payments are being phased in over a 30-year period. Actuarial studies are done every few years and payments are adjusted accordingly. With recent legislative action, unfunded liabilities are now able to be pre-paid to diminish long-term liabilities. When economic times are good, pre-payments must be a priority, as it likely will not be feasible during tough economic times. It is a large obligation that must be paid off sooner than later.
7. Do you support changing the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public schools? How would you implement it if it passes?
I support the question being on the ballot to allow voters to decide if this should be an option to fund education. I also support additional funding for education. However, what must be recognized, is that if this measure passes, it will alter Hawaii’s taxation model. Historically, real property taxes have been reserved for the exclusive use of counties. This ballot question, along with the state allowing counties to charge a general excise tax, which previously was exclusively a state tax, is now confusing Hawaii’s tax structure. With this ambiguity and confusion, the end result cannot be local residents seeing their tax liability increase either at the county or state level. It also must be clear which elected officials must be held accountable for these taxes.
8. 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 would you propose to do about it?
Illegal vacation rentals is a major problem. I was disappointed that for another year, the Legislature could not agree on a bill to regulate online short-term rental sites and also to increase enforcement. The next legislative session is a pivotal point where action must be taken to collect taxes from online sites, both the general excise tax and the transient accommodations tax. Cooperation must also be created between the county and state for front-line enforcement.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
At this time, I do not support a constitutional convention. My general belief has always been that the most effective change comes through small reforms, which slowly add up over time. The constitutional convention has been viewed as a way to create wholesale change, however, I believe a better way to deal with our issues is through incremental, deliberative changes.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
One of the most important ways Hawaii must prepare for sea level rise is through planning for future development and ensuring buildings and important infrastructure will not be severely impacted by sea level rise. Concurrently, we must also increase sustainability efforts to ensure that residents can positively impact and care for the environment; one example is the recent initiative of utilizing 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Affordability, like many other communities, is the most pressing issue facing my district. This includes rising costs such as utilities and for many, their largest monthly expense, housing. The biggest issue with affordable housing is the land for housing and secondarily, resources.
What is needed now, especially in Maui County is an identification of where additional affordable housing should be built. Maui faces zoning issues and infrastructure costs – all of which add to the end result of driving up the cost of housing.
One fix that should be contemplated is the power to rezone tracts of land for the purpose of affordable housing and government providing subsidies for infrastructure costs. Public-private partnerships then could be utilized to complete the actual construction of high-density homes. Although this is a start, the simple fact is that more supply is needed to curtail the demand.