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 Tina Wildberger, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives District 11, which covers Kihei, Wailea and Makena. There are two other Democratic candidates, Donald Couch Jr. and Lee Myrick Jr.
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?
I am interested in bringing a renewed concept of service to the state House. Rather than a club of entitled bureaucrats the House needs to be The People’s House. Accountability, transparency and service are the ideals I will champion. Maui County streams every council meeting, the state should stream whenever in session or in committee and archive minutes in a searchable database not random PDFs. I will push for access to documents without monetizing government information. I will push for the end of “frankenbills.”
With enough women elected this year, sexual harassment policy can be crafted to reflect a zero tolerance work place environment. Lobbyists are numerous, connected, organized, well funded and insidious. The recent Democratic Party chair vote demonstrated the lobbyists’ power but the SCC elections showed that it is possible for un-purchased delegates to resist and prevail using existing rules. This is also true for the Legislature. Some states have term limits for legislative members, which is good but then cedes power to lifelong lobbyists. I would propose term limits for lobbyists as well as more rules to limit access and authority. Many lawmakers are ready to do business a better way, a different way.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do. Having access to this process will help decentralize our government and give voters a stronger voice and more ability to affect the change they would like to see. The process should be open enough to allow innovation and strict enough to prevent special interests and frivolous initiatives. It can be modeled after other states where it is working.
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?
I think the biggest problem with the single-party situation is that we end up with conservatives and progressives running against each other under one party name. Consequently, our state House races end up being decided by a sliver minority of voters in the primaries, like my race where there is no Republican candidate running. My opponent is a converted Republican now running as a Democrat. With 15,000 registered voters in my district, my race will be decided by just 3,000 or so voters since so many people only vote in general election races.
Republicans are left without a voice unless they vote in the Democratic section of the primary ballot. Based on my canvassing feedback many Republicans do not bother to vote in the primary at all. I was disappointed to see the Independent Party disbanded. I think both state and federal governments would benefit from more parties.
This is a difficult problem to resolve, we must have honest debate to refine policies. I offer respectful consideration of opposing views and hope that will encourage and embolden Republicans and others to speak their minds a see if they have public support outside the Democratic bubble.
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?
Oh yes, we need quarterly reporting. Who a candidate takes money from is meaningful. Who lobbyists are giving their money to matters as well. If voters had more information earlier in the campaign season, challengers to the status quo would be able to get their messages out and make their distinction earlier in the race, instead of right before the primary. I would not and could not run my company with only annual or semi-annual reports. We need to increase auditing as well to prevent mistakes from becoming bad habits.
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?
Departments that drag their feet in transparency need to be called to task. Documents and records need to be available preferably without having to ask. With the advent of technology, there is no excuse that all records are not available to the public. Charging for producing records should be minimal and only if redaction is necessary. Electronic records should be free. I can understand nominal charges (paper and ink, not labor) for printed records. The key is to change the archiving systems from random PDFs to scalable, searchable databases. It does cost to make changes but it is necessary and possible.
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?
National single payer health care would go a long way to ameliorate this looming challenge. Defined benefit plans with expensive medical would see major savings reducing the state’s liability. With baby boomers retiring now, there will be large near-term payout obligations. I would consider perhaps a rule that in spite of eligibility of retirement, that complete benefits wouldn’t be realized until age 65 except for medical coverage. Or, perhaps a progressive, scaled benefit plan also based on age for people retiring before age 65 as many government workers “retire” to private sector jobs.
Commitments made must be kept, teachers and state workers have accepted less in wages in exchange for long term benefits. Like most current and future state expenses, some funding could come from audits and efficiencies of operations, but the rest will come from smart growth, growth that pays for itself and increases the tax base, not growth that adds expenses. The State of Hawaii is not some for-profit corporation that can close its doors and abandon the people the worked for it. The state pays its bills with taxes and if we can not improve our operations to fund our obligations than taxes will go up.
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?
We need to fund higher pay for teachers. My eyes widened when I looked at the DOE’s $1.1 billion budget. That’s an average of over $4million per school. I personally would like to advocate for legal adult-use marijuana so that robust tax revenue like Colorado’s model has demonstrated, can substantially increase teacher pay. We will see how this ballot measure fares. It is a bitter pill for the neighbor islands since property tax funds are the only monies not snatched by the State of Oahu to fund things that don’t benefit communities on Maui, Molokai, Lanai, TBI, and Kaua’i. (See building of Hawaii Convention Center funded by TAT that has never been returned.)
If it passes, and I am tasked with funding this, it must not be on the backs of hardworking Hawaii homeowners. I don’t like the “any property over a million” plan, as that leaves out every single condominium short-term rental business raking it in for part-time residents by the thousands of units statewide. It boils down to this should be a tax on any property commercial and residential valued over $2.5million and properties earning income from the visitor industry (which is actually TAT anyway).
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?
Local enforcement of existing rules would go a long way to reducing illegal rentals and placing visitors back in tax paying resorts. The issue is different on Oahu than it is on Maui. This would not have a dramatic impact on long term rental availability. On Maui second home owners who reside on property part time, a large segment of properties taking advantage of these disruptive technologies, will never put their properties up for long term rental. Our municipalities have failed to build workforce housing for the last decade and homeowners are being scapegoated.
Maui needs 400 units a year and has built none in the 10 years. The only development in my district in the last 15 years has been luxury development. We must build workforce housing along with the requisite infrastructure. My entire subdivision was built at the expense of resort developers and for the workers. I want to collaborate with our County Council to secure property and funds to build workforce housing. We must create a system that allows for units in perpetuity. Enforcement will not solve our housing crisis. We must build our way out of it.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I support holding the constitutional convention. The people’s involvement in government should be encouraged. The con con is a unique opportunity and massive participation by all can prevent special and corporate interests from too much influence.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We are behind the curve already. On Maui, currently, condo owners too close to the ocean are trying to get permits to build destructive sea walls to preserve their assets at the expense of their neighbors and near shore reefs. Statewide, we need a defining plan of managed retreat. We need a statewide sea wall ban. We must pull our heads out of the sand and decide what the statewide policy is going to be. Will at-risk property owners be compensated? Will they simply need to make an insurance claim and walk away?
In Louisiana a $48 million federally funded pilot project is trying to move an entire community that is submerging, but the people don’t want to go and the relocation options are mostly undesirable. With brand new development of high-end high rises in Kakaako, which is prognosticated to be under water soon, I have to wonder what planning has happened to date. Our county economic bases are at risk when property taxes revenues drop with declining values. We must come up with an economic plan to weather this inevitability.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
South Maui has serious clean water issues.
Our Cove Park, a major surf spot and tourist destination, has the worst testing results in the state. People routinely contract staph and MRSA. Our environment is our economy. We must protect our reefs. Our county is recklessly injecting wastewater up slope into porous lava rock and ends up in the ocean. Limu used to thrive there … it was so easy to gather, but no more.
A change in county management will help but we need state oversight. Department of Health needs funding for testing. And I propose a reorganization of the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and create a Department of Environment, a State EPA. These departments have not served the needs of our communities and are tasked with permitting for activities that create a conflict of interest. Additionally the state must coordinate with the counties to improve wastewater infrastructure.