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 Amy Perruso, the Democratic candidate for state House of Representatives District 46, which covers Wahiawa, Whitmore Village and Launani Valley. There is one other candidate, Republican John Miller.
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 deeply concerned about the current lack of transparency in the Legislature. We can and should take several steps to increase legislative accountability and oversight. To begin, all sexual harassment complaints should be handled in a clear and consistent manner, with the identity of lawmakers who have been accused of abuse being made public. Additionally, I support passage of a law prohibiting government officials from working as registered lobbyists for at least three years from the date they leave public service. Finally, I wholeheartedly support recording and televising all legislative hearings, and making them available for later viewing on the Capitol’s website.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I do support such a process in principle, but it is critical that we first do more to eliminate the undue influence of money in politics. If we are interested in the potential impact of adopting a statewide citizens initiative process as it has been implemented elsewhere, we would do well to look at the origins and effects of Proposition 13, signed into California law in 1978.
In the 1970s, California residents who felt property taxes were burdensome were galvanized by Howard Jarvis, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association, a group that stood to benefit tremendously from decreased property taxes. It was clear that the proposition would benefit the wealthy and those who owned large property portfolios. Opponents warned that passage of Proposition 13 would potentially decimate services funded by property tax revenue, especially public education. Yet, large property owners were able to mount a well-funded and ultimately successful campaign. Immediately after Proposition 13 passed, property tax receipts plummeted, creating enormous budget deficits for school districts.
Although the initiative process would seem, on the surface, to be extremely democratic, I think that, under the wrong circumstances, it could worsen social and economic inequality.
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 am less concerned about party affiliation and the appearance of one-party control than I am about the drive to squelch progressive impulses inside the Democratic Party. The history of the party in Hawaii is grounded in an interracial labor movement, social justice, and environmental activism, and we need to continue to make sure the party serves the needs of the people, rather than banks, corporations, and major development companies.
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?
Yes, I would favor more frequent campaign finance reporting, perhaps on a quarterly or even monthly basis. I would also favor prohibiting lawmakers from holding fundraisers during legislative session, which would be a small step in preventing our policymaking system from being corrupted by pay-to-play deals.
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?
During my tenure as HSTA secretary-treasurer, I used our state’s sunshine laws to obtain records about class size throughout Hawaii’s public schools. I can attest to the hurdles placed in front of people who are seeking information, as my own request dragged on for months without being fulfilled.
I support the funding of digitization and archiving of public records, whenever possible, and in such a way that those records may be easily shared. Moreover, I believe that access to public records should be free and would endorse legislation codifying that principle into state law.
Finally, we must do more to ensure that public records requests are fulfilled in a timely manner by strengthening staffing at the Office of Information Practices, so that OIP can better protect the public’s right to access vital government information.
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?
I am not satisfied with current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities. We can and must do more to meet our obligations to state workers. I would increase funding for pension (ERS) and health care (EUTF) obligations by reinstating higher income taxes for Hawaii’s wealthiest residents and establishing a carbon tax, which a Brookings Institute report found would raise $365 million in its first year of implementation. I believe our wealthiest and most privileged residents must pay their fair share to protect our state’s most vulnerable people.
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?
Yes, I wholeheartedly support authorizing the Legislature to tax investment properties to increase public education funding, a political fight that I was proud to be engaged in as secretary-treasurer of HSTA. Hawaii’s schools are chronically underfunded, leaving our state with an accelerating teacher turnover crisis, insufficient resources for special needs students and English language learners, and inadequate curriculum in the arts, music, vocational, and Hawaiian cultural courses.
If voters pass the constitutional amendment this November, I will support enabling legislation that creates a property tax surcharge on residential investment properties with a value of $1 million or greater, with exemptions for the very few million-dollar properties that are rented for truly affordable prices.
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?
The explosion of vacation rentals throughout the islands is directly related to unchecked real estate speculation. It ultimately reduces the amount of housing available to local residents and undermines the compact made with workers of Hawaii by the hoteliers who sought and were granted access to our precious resources.
If illegal vacation rentals are allowed to proliferate with impunity, we will lose access to affordable rentals for working families and witness the elimination of good jobs for unionized hospitality workers. We need to control the growth of illegal vacation rentals and ensure that those allowed to operate on our shores are held fiscally accountable for their impact.
9. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
I do not support a constitutional convention at this time. I am concerned that wealthy individuals and corporations – including those who do not reside in Hawaii – will spend large amounts of money to dominate the process, which could jeopardize important constitutional protections for working families, Hawaiians, ethnic and sexual minorities, and everyday citizens.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We should initiate managed retreat from existing coastlines and plan for imminent sea level rise, acidification, and massive reef damage. We need to convert agricultural lands into working farms, right now, to create food sovereignty. We must expand our commitment to renewable energy sources that will mitigate the effects of climate change, while also lowering energy costs. Finally, we must fully implement climate change education in our schools, so that the next generation of innovators will be prepared to build a more sustainable and resilient society.
11. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My constituents view houselessness as the most pressing issue facing our community. I plan to advocate for Wahiawa to become the site of one of Oahu’s ohana zones, with state lands dedicated to creating agriculturally based workforce housing in partnership with ALEA Bridge, a local service provider for homeless families.
I will also work to increase public health services for community members struggling with severe mental health problems and drug addiction, including by seeking funding for a 21st century wellness center that will offer a comprehensive continuum of healthcare. Wahiawa is a place of great aloha. Expressing that aloha to protect our most vulnerable community members can be a source of our economic rejuvenation.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.