Hawaii Gov. David Ige and state Rep. Andria Tupola, his Republican challenger, agree on many things.
Liquefied natural gas is a bad idea. Government needs to do more to adapt to the effects of climate change. Vacation rentals are out of control. Housing is a top priority.
But they don’t see eye to eye on how to tackle these and other issues. And there are some areas where the two candidates running for governor in the Nov. 6 election are far apart, especially on whether to tax investment homes to fund education.
Voters will be the first to consider the proposed constitutional amendment to let the state collect property taxes on certain real estate. If they approve the measure next month, it will be up to the Legislature to define what “investment” properties are, how much money would be collected and what the funds will pay for.
The next governor will play an integral role in shaping that conversation and ultimately signing off on the enabling legislation or vetoing it.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association championed putting the ConAm question on the ballot this fall. The union pointed at failing public schools, crumbling infrastructure and low teacher wages as reasons to pump millions of additional dollars into the Department of Education.
Ige, who was endorsed by HSTA, said he will vote in favor of the amendment. He said Hawaii’s state government pays for functions usually assumed by local governments in other states, like education and jails, so it’s not unreasonable to dip into a funding source otherwise reserved for the counties. He noted that Hawaii has among the nation’s lowest property tax rates.
Ige qualified his support though.
“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,” he said in his Civil Beat candidate questionnaire.
Tupola’s position is more complicated.
She is generally against tax increases — including this one — as she believes they increase the cost of living in one of the hardest states to make ends meet. She voted against a bill last year to raise more money from taxes to fund the Honolulu rail project.
But Tupola voted in favor of the bill this year to put the ConAm question on the ballot.
“I believe the people should have the ability to decide on this issue,” she said in her candidate Q&A. “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.”
She supports increasing the funding that goes to students, schools and teachers by cutting administrative overhead, eliminating waste and efficiently spending federal dollars. She proposed an audit of DOE to do so.
“Since the term ‘investment properties’ is not legally defined, this amendment could be problematic as many investment properties are rental units for local families,” Tupola said. “It is also unclear if this tax would make a significant difference in the very large Department of Education budget.”
Both candidates consider eduction as a priority.
Tupola, a Kamehameha Schools graduate who is working on her doctorate in music education at the University of Hawaii, said it’s not all about the four-year degree.
She has become a proponent of vocational schools and wants the state to do a better job of embracing all forms of education.
Tupola sees education as key to keeping individuals and families, including those who were recently homeless, in houses. She said resources are needed to help improve “financial literacy, life and relationship skills.”
Ige, a Pearl City High School graduate with an engineering degree from UH, has pushed an early college initiative and focused on 21st century careers in fields like cybersecurity and technology.
He wants to transition Hawaii to a place that offers good-paying jobs so kids can afford to live here after they graduate.
Affordability is the key to solving the housing crisis. The median home price in Hawaii is more than double the national average but higher wages don’t make up the difference.
For Tupola, increasing affordable housing means decreasing the cost of living.
“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,” she said.
To make that happen, Tupola said she would prioritize lowering taxes and upping support for developers. That means cutting the permit waiting period to expedite construction, she said.
Ige highlighted his ability to work with the private sector and housing advocates to produce more homes. By his tally, more than 5,300 units were produced since he became governor in December 2014, with 40 percent deemed affordable.
His administration’s goal is to produce 10,000 new units by 2020. He said there are 1,400 housing units in the pipeline and 4,000 more in the planning stages so far.
Ige said he “changed the paradigm” by requesting hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations to support housing developments, which the Legislature recently agreed to fund.
“I will continue to be a strong advocate for supporting the development of housing at all price points,” he said.
Ige and Tupola are split on the question of whether Hawaii should consider a constitutional convention, or ConCon.
Ige said Hawaii’s progressive state constitution has worked well but it is time to consider whether improvements can be made to “ensure transparency and integrity” in government.
“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,” he said.
Voters are asked every 10 years if a ConCon should be held but there has not been one since 1978. Delegates are elected to the convention — there were 102 last time — where they consider amendments to the constitution. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and environmental protections were created in the 1978 ConCon.
This time around supporters want a ConCon as a means of going over the Legislature’s head to pass things like a statewide citizen initiative, recall and referendum process. Critics, which include a rare coalition of unions and environmental and business groups, fear too much could go wrong in the convention’s messy process.
Ige recognized the constitution’s current strengths but said it may be time to revisit it in this “era where public discourse is reaching new lows and some look to politics to make personal gains and cater to private interests.”
Tupola was primarily concerned about the cost. It cost $2.6 million to put it on in 1978 and opponents’ ads cite a much-disputed estimate of $55 million to put it on now.
Instead of a convention, Tupola said a better alternative would be improving the legislative process by boosting transparency and access to the session by allowing remote video testimony for neighbor island and rural residents and giving the public increased insight into laws and bills through video recap and commentary after sessions.
“I strongly advocate for allowing the people’s voices to be heard through the legislative process and to work on improving the current process,” she said. “However, we should be concerned about the costs of a constitutional convention and the specifics of the process.”
On the environment, Ige has touted his sustainability initiative, which includes goals to improve the state’s management of nearshore waters, grow more food locally and transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
“While the White House and Congress have abandoned climate leadership, Hawaii has embraced the Paris Agreement and going carbon neutral by 2045,” he said.
Ige said the state climate commission, led by his appointees from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Office of Planning, have a new tool to guide development across state and county agencies that shows sea-level rise exposure areas.
He noted how DLNR has planted over 250,000 trees to restore watersheds and that the planning office is studying managed retreat to examine policies the state could implement in “setting great coastal setbacks.”
The Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control has also been working with other states as part of the U.S. Climate Alliance. Ige said one project involves letting residents and tourists pay to restore native trees, such as ohia and koa, that can absorb their carbon emissions from traveling to and from the islands.
Tupola said Hawaii has performed badly when it comes to stewarding its natural resources.
Her community-driven approach would involve pulling on Native Hawaiian cultural traditions and the latest science to develop plans to protect shorelines and coral reefs.
“We need to educate the community to change behavior, because many people may not be aware of the environmental threats of climate change,” Tupola said. “Effective community solutions require community incentives for renewable energy and land conservation projects.”
She said Hawaii needs to prepare its infrastructure for climate change, which is already eroding beaches on Oahu’s north shore.
Tupola said she would work with the federal government to secure subsidies for renewable energy projects, like burning invasive trees to produce electricity as Kauai is doing.
She does not, however, support using liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as a bridge fuel to achieving the state’s goal of 100 percent electricity from renewable sources by 2045.
“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,” she said.
Ige took a stand against LNG early in his term and has not changed his position. He has said it is essentially a waste of millions of dollars on infrastructure that amounts to a detour in meeting the state’s renewable energy goals.
He pointed to a recent Transcending Oil report that found that accelerating the clean energy transition was the least costly way forward and could get Hawaii to about 50 percent to 80 percent renewable by 2030, instead of the planned 40 percent.
Ige also noted that the Public Utilities Commission accepted Hawaiian Electric Industries’ Power Supply Improvement Plan, which describes how the state can attain its 2045 goal by 2040 and for millions of dollars less than anticipated.
As with education, both candidates view energy policy as linked to the cost of living and the economy.
Hawaii residents pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, driven largely by the state’s reliance on imported oil to power the islands.
Ige and Tupola have differing approaches on what the state should do to ensure the public has access to records.
Tupola supported House Bill 1730 this past legislative session that tried to force agencies to disclose public records that some have withheld under the “deliberative process” exception. The measure intended to clarify that departmental budget requests are public record, which Honolulu officials have disputed.
The bill, part of the five-member House minority caucus’ package, died without a hearing in the 51-member chamber.
If elected, Tupola said she would direct agency heads to improve their websites to provide efficient access to accurate and current information to the public and to reduce delays and fees for public records release.
Ige said government transparency will increase as more state processes are modernized and digitized, making it cheaper and faster to fulfill records requests.
“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,” he said. “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.”
His administration requested, and the Legislature approved, additional funding for the Office of Information Practices, which administers the public records and open meetings laws.
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