Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Andria Tupola, the Republican candidate for governor. There are three other candidates, including Democrat David Ige, Green Party candidate Jim Brewer and nonpartisan candidate Terrence Teruya.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
As the problem of homelessness in our state is one of geographically and socioeconomically disparate populations, the state government should serve as a central clearinghouse for a policy of decentralized solutions. Regionally specific approaches should be adopted in conjunction with the current individual needs-assessment approach.
In short, we need to engage, empower, and educate. We need to engage the community by assembling regional teams on each island to include a combination of nonprofits, county and state officials, law enforcement, community organizations, and the homeless themselves. The resources to get the needed services already exist, but the current centralized approach to the problem has proven too daunting to create a substantial decrease in homeless numbers.
We need to empower the homeless population to better their current situation by evaluating the unique needs of individuals. No possible solution should be outright rejected before it is researched and assessed.
We need to educate those who are recently housed to prevent them from returning to be homeless. After an individual or family transitions into permanent housing, education is key to keeping them in that housing. This will involve giving access to resources about financial literacy, life, and relationship skills.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as governor do specifically?
To increase affordable housing for the middle class, we must first must decrease the cost of living in order for those receiving a median income or below to not only survive, but thrive here. Every individual or family deserves the opportunity to have a fighting chance to purchase a home of their own instead of sinking their hard-earned income into sky-high rental bills each month if they choose. I will prioritize decreasing taxes so that individuals and families can utilize their income more effectively to improve their quality of life. I will increase support for local developers and local jobs so that more dollars can stay here and stimulate our economic growth and sustainability.
To increase our supply, I will work toward reducing the burdensome permit waiting period for developers, which will allow building to occur more quickly. I will seek to increase the availability of financial education so our middle class residents may learn how to efficiently utilize their income, including purchasing a home in this market. I will also aim to improve beneficiary access to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and use underutilized resources to provide housing for those on the waitlist.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I strongly advocate for allowing the people’s voices to be heard through the legislative process and to work on improving the current process. However, we should be concerned about the costs of a constitutional convention and the specifics of the process.
In 1978, the constitutional convention cost $2.6 million dollars for travel costs for the delegates, salary, per diem, office support costs to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and more. The cost for a constitutional convention in 2018 would be much higher and comes at a time when our state is in financial chaos.
Since the constitutional convention process is very similar to the legislative process, I would suggest as an alternative to a constitutional convention that we increase the transparency and access to the legislative session by allowing remote video testimony for our neighbor island and rural residents, giving the public increased insight to laws and bills through video recap and commentary after sessions, and taking significant steps to make it easier for all residents to participate and be heard in the lawmaking process.
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 support allowing the people to voice their concerns as it is already currently allowed through our local county governments. An initiative process is available in all four counties for citizens to propose ordinances and charter amendments (including the consolidated city-county of Honolulu). The process requirements are set by the county’s respective charter. I believe this is an efficient way to protect county home rule and still allow residents to raise concerns that may be overlooked by government officials.
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, I am not satisfied with the current plan to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. Although efforts made by the Legislature in 2011 were a step in the right direction, we need to do more. The Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) unfunded liability has jumped from $8.6 billion in 2014 to over $12.9 billion in 2017 (Source: ERS of Hawaii Report to Board of Trustees on the 92nd Annual Actuarial Valuation for the Year Ending June 30, 2017, p. 28). This number assumes that Hawaii can continue to receive a 7 percent return on its investments. If we were to have another economic downturn, that liability could easily grow by billions of more dollars.
We need to have a serious discussion with all parties involved, so the ERS can continue to be solvent. As governor, I would support plans that would reduce the risk of the ERS portfolio so that ERS continues to be a benefit to government employees, including our first responders. We need to start contributing more than the state minimum to our ERS immediately. Allowing employees to increase their contribution and removing the contribution cap will further assist in decreasing the liability.
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?
In the Legislature, I have been a champion for transparency and accountability in the government. I supported House Bill 1730 that would decrease delays and excessive fees for the release of records. The bill states that agencies must provide public disclosure of budget documents. It also clarifies that exceptions to disclosure do not apply to budget documents unless agency can show a legitimate public safety justification for nondisclosure.
As governor, I will direct the agency heads to improve their websites to provide efficient access to accurate and current information to the public, to reduce delays and fees for public records release, and will prioritize increased transparency and access to the government over all for our residents.
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 will be firm in my resolve to collect unpaid taxes for vacation rentals. When illegal vacation rentals encroach on our residential neighborhoods, it is a very serious problem. We need to consider both the needs of the community and our current housing crises.
Our tax modernization system is still struggling and I will work closely with the Office of Enterprise Technology Services to ensure that our tax modernization system is completed for the appropriate and accurate collection of taxes.
We also must ensure that zoning for vacation rentals is strictly enforced. We have county zoning to make sure that residential areas remain residential and commercial tourism areas are used for tourism. Discrepancies in zoning need to be resolved. Vacation rental operators need to abide by the county laws and the county needs to strictly enforce fines where necessary.
8. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
One of my biggest concerns about the tourism industry is dispersing and utilizing the transient accommodation tax (TAT) to take care of the tourism impacts at the county and state levels. The TAT was originally created to help build infrastructure and help counties to shoulder the burden placed on them from extra traffic and population increases due to tourism. The disparity in the TAT distribution must be addressed, and I do not believe that the neighbor islands should be made to pay the TAT for the rail.
I also believe that we must do a better job of supporting and marketing our local businesses and goods within the tourism industry and increase resources for small businesses to have a more prominent place next to the large corporations which profit from our visitors. Additionally, since our islands are so heavily dependent on the fluctuating tourism industry, I strongly believe we must pursue growth of other industries for our economic sustainability, such as agriculture.
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 am not in favor of amending the state constitution to tax investment properties for education. I am against tax increases and they increase our cost of living. I believe we can increase the funding going directly to students, schools, and teachers without increasing taxes by cutting administration overhead, eliminating waste, and efficiently spending down federal dollars. Since the term “investment properties” is not legally defined, this amendment could be problematic as many investment properties are rental units for local families. It is also unclear if this tax would make a significant difference in the very large Eepartment of Education budget.
I believe the people should have the ability to decide on this issue. Many other states use property tax to fund public schools. However, I do not believe that increasing taxes is the answer to our failing school system. We must conduct an internal audit of the Department of Education to eliminate waste and inefficiency so more dollars are going directly to the students. We also need equitable funding for all public school students, including rural, charter, and special needs students. In addition, I will aim to retain our talented teachers through better salary, medical benefits, and classroom resources.
10. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
I strongly support sound renewable energy initiatives which are financially feasible and environmentally sound. While natural gas has taken over as the number one source of renewable energy in the country, I am concerned with the consequences that natural gas has been found to have on our environment due to fracking and CO2 emissions as a fossil fuel. For these reasons, I would support cleaner sources of energy with less impact on our environment than natural gas.
11. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
As a Native Hawaiian, I believe that we are stewards of this land and these waters of which we call home. Every resident of Hawaii has a responsibility to properly care for and maintain our ecosystem, including our coral reefs, and our government must set the example. We need to prepare our infrastructure for climate change as we can already see the effects of erosion on the North Shore.
We must go to each coastal community within our islands and work with community members to collaborate and develop the practices using scientific developments and traditional cultural practices regarding conservation planning to protect our shorelines and coral reefs.
In order to do this, we need to educate the community to change behavior, because many people may not be aware of the environmental threats of climate change. Effective community solutions require community incentives for renewable energy and land conservation projects.
I support research and development in renewable industries such as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative that burns invasive tree species for fuel. I would support studies for projects which could work on other islands. I will also work with the federal government to secure subsidies for renewable energy projects.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
My vision is to build a Hawaii where more people can stay in this place they call home for generations to come through simple and innovative solutions to housing, jobs, and education.
I talked about my solutions for affordable housing in a previous question. I also want to ensure that families can afford housing by reducing the cost of living in Hawaii. I plan to do this by decreasing taxes and our pension liability, so we have a sustainable financial path for the state.
I will be a champion for education and underserved communities by ensuring equitable funding for all public school students, supporting our teachers with better salary and resources, and auditing and streamlining DOE facilities and resources.
I also plan to create an atmosphere for local businesses to thrive so more people can stay in this place we call home for generations to come. I will decrease corporate tax and unnecessary regulation, increase access to capital grants and build local partnerships. I will also increase vocational training for high schools and community colleges to connect more local families with available job opportunities.