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 David Ige, the Democratic candidate for governor. There are three other candidates, including Republican Andria Tupola, 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?
I have implemented programs that data proves are substantially decreasing homeless populations in Hawaii. Our efforts have reduced the number of homeless individuals statewide for two consecutive years, down almost 10 percent in 2018, on top of an 8.8 percent reduction in 2017. We’ve nearly doubled average permanent housing placements per month from 231 to 412, and average lengths of stay in homeless programs have gone down to 163 days from 430 days.
We have worked to build a comprehensive system to address homelessness by:
• Being accountable for public funds and basing payment for shelters and other services on their effectiveness in getting people housed and keeping them housed.
• Expanding proven programs like Housing First statewide so chronic homelessness is addressed in every county.
• Engaging in public-private partnerships that quickly add new housing for homeless families, such as the recent Kahauiki Village project.
• Partnering with law enforcement and treatment providers to keep homeless persons from cycling through the criminal justice system and increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.
This approach works, aligns with national best practices, and is guided by data.
Homelessness won’t be fixed overnight but we’ve made real progress. Together we will do more.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as governor do specifically?
My administration has worked with the private sector and housing advocates since I took office to maximize the state’s financing tools to produce housing and ensure investment in the development of regional infrastructure so more projects can be implemented. Our efforts are paying off. Since becoming governor, more than 5,300 new housing units were produced with 40 percent of them being affordable. Another 1,400 units are in the pipeline, and more than 4,000 units are in the planning phase. We are well on our way to exceeding our goal of 10,000 new housing units by 2020.
I changed the paradigm by requesting hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations over the course of my first term to support housing development, most of which the Legislature has recently agreed to fund. I will continue to be a strong advocate for supporting the development of housing at all price points. In 2017 I adopted the Hawaii State Housing Functional Plan, which represents renewed state commitment to producing more housing and provides details on how we will do it. I am committed to achieving its objectives and am the only candidate with a proven track record of delivering homes for our communities.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I will certainly support the determination of voters and personally believe the people of Hawaii should come together to have thoughtful discussions on the issues of our time in a way that only a constitutional convention will permit. Hawaii is fortunate to have a good, progressive state constitution that has generally served us well.
Our constitution embodies caring for all people, provides important rights, and recognizes the importance of our host culture, the need to protect and conserve our natural resources, and provide for quality education. However, in an era where public discourse is reaching new lows and some look to politics to make personal gains and cater to private interests, it is time to consider whether improvements can be made that will help ensure transparency and integrity in all branches of government.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
No. I do not support direct initiative, whereby a measure is put directly to a vote on a statewide ballot after being submitted by a petition. This process would provide a means for special interests and well-funded organizations to essentially make laws for themselves that are not in the public interest. This is already happening in other states. Well-funded interests can simply hire companies to run petition drives where, depending on the issue and other factors, the cost per required signature can range from cents to tens of dollars.
Our current process of lawmaking contemplates bills passing through two bodies of the legislature that include several readings and evaluation and approval by the governor. Direct initiative does not provide for a hearings process or stakeholder feedback. Additionally, decisions on these initiatives can be made in a vacuum without full contemplation of the context, impacts, and unintended consequences.
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?
Yes. I provide strong leadership on funding pension and health liabilities and limiting liability growth. I worked to reform the pension system, require pre-funding for health benefits, and implement prudent financial techniques, all of which are projected to save literally billions of taxpayer dollars over the next 20 years.
I authored and am executing a pioneering law that requires both our state and local governments to pre-fund and pay down the unfunded liability for health benefits, the first of its kind in the country. This law eliminates “pay-as-you-go,” a scheme that hands the bills to the next generation, and requires payment and consideration for future costs.
Our employees were part of the solution, with employers and employees now contributing more to the retirement system. New employees have lower benefit costs and are not permitted to use overtime to “spike” their pensions.
I’ve also initiated seemingly simple administrative solutions, like making bigger payments earlier in the year, like you could with your credit payments but on a much larger scale, that alone saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
We are now on a solid path to financial sustainability and elimination of these liabilities.
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?
My efforts to modernize state processes will make government better able to respond to information requests in an efficient manner, as more files become available digitally and the time needed to retrieve, compile, and transmit them is reduced. Until more of these processes are modernized, locating, segregating, and duplicating files can take time and redirect resources intended to serve the public in other ways. I do not support imposing excessive fees, but at times charging appropriate fees can help focus records requests and help make better use of state resources.
I made more funding for the Office of Information Practices, which administers laws that require open access to government records and open public meetings, a priority which will help the agency open governmental processes to public scrutiny and participation. I have also issued directives to all departments to strengthen efforts to increase access to public information, ensure that government business is conducted as openly as possible, and enhance government accountability.
I strongly believe both government and the public benefits from transparency and expect it from my administration.
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 vacation rentals impact the availability and affordability of housing for local residents, cause overcrowding in neighborhoods, and strain local infrastructure. Prior to the illegal vacation rental explosion, tourism was largely confined to the districts created for tourism, such as Waikiki. Vacation rentals must be made to comply with zoning laws and permitting requirements.
In 2016, I vetoed a bill that would have allowed short-term accommodations brokers to act as tax collection agents for the state because it amounted to licensing illegal activity that undermines zoning, and would make our local communities bear the impacts of private vacation rentals. I support legislation strengthening county authority and enforcement of laws and regulations relating to transient accommodations, increasing penalties for illegal vacation rentals, and establishing a means to better collect tax revenue. County government, as the zoning and enforcement authority, should have the authority to tailor regulation for local needs (addressing resident concerns such as locations, unit sizes, density, and presence of an owner) and design property tax assessments to offset impact on county services.
8. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
Visitor arrivals have been increasing, facilitated by expanding airline service and alternative accommodations, and tourism continues to produce new jobs. As we near 10 million visitors annually, we have concerns about carrying capacity and are addressing them.
We are doing things differently. We are making Hawaii a premier visitor destination marked by higher quality experiences, rather than higher numbers of visitors. We will help rein in illegal vacation rentals and develop solutions to address tourism impacts. I also support using TAT revenue to conserve public lands and help maintain beaches and parks used by our residents, visitors, and future generations.
While our environment is the basis of our tourism industry, we are protecting our natural resources from its impacts, including reducing unauthorized access to sensitive areas. Haena State Park will put in place daily visitor limits to manage impacts. This may be a model for other heavily visited areas.
As a state we are reducing our reliance on tourism and building needed infrastructure to support the economic sectors of the future. We are supporting local entrepreneurs in innovation and farmers in increasing yields, and driving new demand for scientists, technicians, small businesses and other professionals.
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 having Hawaii’s voters determine whether the state constitution should be amended to give the Legislature the authority to provide that certain real property tax revenue be used to support public education, and I will be voting yes.
Hawaii state government performs functions usually assumed by local governments in other states, such as providing for education, hospitals, and jails. At the same time, the Hawaii state constitution provides only counties the ability to tax real property. This has meant the State of Hawaii must either collect relatively higher revenues from its income and excise taxes and/or provide relatively lower service levels as compared to other states. Conversely, property tax rates in Hawaii are among the lowest in the country and support relatively few county services in comparison to counties in other states.
If voters approve the constitutional amendment, more legislation will be needed to implement its provisions. I would work with all stakeholders, including the many people and organizations that have expressed their concerns, to minimize unintended consequences. I will only support use of this provision if it provides more resources for public education, and is not intended to merely supplant existing funding.
10. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
No. I support the transition to clean, renewable power as quickly as possible. Now that Hawaii has a carbon neutral goal by 2045, bypassing natural gas for clean power is even more important. When I first ran for governor, I took a firm stand that I still hold to: We should have 100 percent renewable power and Hawaii not depend on another fossil fuel as it transitions to renewable power.
I am an electrical engineer by training and understand the technology and economics of electricity. We are ready to make the switch to renewable power and recent evidence supports my position. The Public Utilities Commission accepted HEI’s Power Supply Improvement Plan, which described how we can attain our 2045 goal by 2040 and for millions of dollars less.
The recent Transcending Oil report found that accelerating the clean energy transition was the least-cost pathway forward and could get us to about 50-80 percent by 2030, instead of the currently planned 40 percent. Accelerating the switch means growing our economy and creating new businesses and local jobs for our residents.
11. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
While the White House and Congress have abandoned climate leadership, Hawaii has embraced the Paris Agreement and going carbon neutral by 2045. At the World Conservation Congress, I launched the Sustainable Hawaii Initiative, which ties together forests, marine, food, energy, and biosecurity into mutually supporting goals to be more sustainable and prepare for climate change, both mitigation and adaptation.
My administration is preparing for climate change through many departments and offices. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and State Office of Planning (OP) lead the State Climate Commission, which created a new planning overlay called the sea level rise exposure area as a planning tool for state and county agencies to use in guiding development. The DLNR has planted over 250,000 trees to restore watershed and ensure future water and is implementing a Coral Reef Management Plan. The OP is studying managed retreat to examine policies the state could implement in setting great coastal setbacks.
The Office of Environmental Quality Control leads our collaboration with other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance and governments around the world on climate action, as well as working with DLNR and OP on a carbon offset program and projects that would enable residents and tourists to directly pay to restore native trees like ohia and koa to absorb carbon emissions from traveling to and from the islands.
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Your vote will help decide whether state government operates in an open, honest, and transparent manner as it makes the critical decisions that will impact the lives of our communities and the next generation. It is a question of whether we will return to the old ways of machine politics and backroom deals, allowing special interests to outweigh the public interest and personal gain to be placed before the collective good. Additionally, each governor appoints hundreds of people to positions of influence and power, people you didn’t vote for, but that you must trust were selected on their merits.
The race for governor is certainly about leadership, but leaders don’t just talk about leadership. They get things done, and they do so with integrity. My leadership team is comprised of professionals and together we have truly moved the needle on issues that matter, from improving the quality of education and protecting the environment to increasing housing options and transitioning those without homes to permanent housing. Let’s stand together, and work together, toward our shared goals of making Hawaii better and providing the next generation with all the opportunities they deserve.