Senate Bill 999 seeks to “establish the Hawaii aerospace development corporation to grow investments and job opportunities in the aerospace industry and for workforce development.”

On its face, the bill seems very positive. However, upon greater scrutiny, the proposed Aerospace Development Corporation appears to exist to funnel seemingly unlimited financial and natural resources to corporations with no public oversight.

It is proposed that the corporation would be run by unelected officials; be empowered to issue special-purpose revenue bonds to benefit aerospace/defense corporations doing business in our state; and would secure state funding via loans directed by the governor through the state general fund, interest free.

It would also authorize corporations to use public lands, including road-ways and easements, for launch sites and other industrial parks, and to acquire private property through eminent domain, including waters, minerals submerged lands, and air space. The proposed ADC would also exempt corporations from paying state and county taxes.

A view of space from the Hubble Telescope.

Flickr: Michael

The proposed Aerospace Development Corporation would serve no one, except for corporations that could not be held accountable due to the absence of transparency and democratic process that are inherent in the ADC’s structure.

Further, there is evidence in other states on how a public-private partnership, such as the proposed Aerospace Development Corporation, results in tremendous fiscal waste. Hawaii already ranks lowest in the nation on return of services for taxes spent. Creation of the ADC with its built-in outflow of subsidies would solidify this dubious ranking.

One only need look at Alaska, where the state formed a similarly structured private corporation in 1991, called the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation to see how such an agency might facilitate the plunder of public coffers. The primary, if not only, company the Alaska ADC services is Alaska Aerospace, which coincidentally happens to be the same company now lobbying to build a rocket launch pad 9 miles from Hilo, in close proximity to three schools, and in the place where the very first hula was performed — ever.

Thanks to the Alaska ADC, until 2014, Alaska Aerospace enjoyed tax-free, non-transparent financial sustainment by state and federal coffers, without ever repaying the dividends it had promised the state at its genesis. Why would Hawaii residents be even remotely interested in this model?

‘Doesn’t Make Sense’

In 2014, a large explosion after a rocket launch on Kodiak Island (Alaska Aerospace’s second one) caused serious damage to the launch infrastructure and scattered debris and toxic chemicals across the coastal landscape. Kodiak residents still complain that there has never been verifiable success in cleaning up the mess.

The explosion ultimately catalyzed the governor of Alaska to issue an executive order to terminate discretionary spending that had been sustaining Alaska Aerospace until that time. A few months after the termination of those subsidies, Alaska Aerospace began to discuss exploring new subsidies in relation to a Hawaii spaceport.

According to Alaska Public Media, a mid-level DOD employee who was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery in connection with aerospace-industry fraud, confessed that building Alaska Aerospace’s launch facility, all with tax dollars, “doesn’t make sense.” He was admitting that the launch facility existed solely to siphon millions of dollars every year for a project that had no practical use, despite the promises of jobs and a new thriving economy.

The creation of the Alaska ADC was an integral part of his scheme. Why would Hawaii want that?

One could judge the crafting of the ADC as downright immoral, and that’s not even considering the historical context in which this bill arises. Donald Trump has just announced the creation of the U.S. Space Command, which provides the aerospace defense industry with a brand-new, wide-open market. In addition, the U.S. announced less than a month ago that it had begun production of a new low-yield nuclear weapon that some consider “small enough to use.”

Just a few days later, Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would be suspending compliance with the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces  treaty, which limits the number of missile launch pads any nation can operate.

“Is this really what the Aloha State should be supporting?”

Aerospace industrialists no doubt view these developments as opportunities to build more launch pads and expand profits, and to build an economy and provide jobs and STEM education. They do the world great danger by not acknowledging the peril implied. Russia followed suit a few days after the U.S. by also pulling out of the INF treaty, thus signaling the opening strains of Cold War 2.0.

The reality is, this is a sector that involves missiles, nuclear weapons, nontransparency and astronomical government subsidies. The aerospace defense corporations are already highly opaque due to non-disclosure clauses that are routine in the industry. Creating the Hawaii ADC would create yet another level of non transparency that would distance tax-paying citizens ever more from their right to know how public moneys are spent. It would also refresh the strategic bullseye target on Hawaii in high-visibility paint.

Is this really what the Aloha State should be supporting? When President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, Gov. David Ige proudly signed two bills into law the following month, declaring that the state of Hawaii would defy the Trump administration by committing to the principles of the Paris Accord. Likewise, just because Trump has no desire to restrain the threat of war, does that mean that Hawaii should adapt its economic possibilities in lockstep?

Creating the Aerospace Development Corporation would be a step closer to fusing the State of Hawaii with a 21st century arms race. SB 999 flies directly in the face of democracy, transparency, sustainability, fiscal responsibility and aloha.

I strongly oppose SB 999.

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