Campaign Corner: Transformative Choices Needed At The Legislature - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Kim Coco Iwamoto

Kim Coco Iwamoto is a mother, business owner and resident of the Ala Moana who is running in the Democratic primary for State House District 26.

Unprecedented. We hear that word a lot right now. Indeed, unprecedented times offer extraordinary opportunities.

The intense changes we are experiencing together as a result of COVID-19 are similar to the tumultuous metamorphosis a caterpillar undergoes. What a waste it would be if after all that radical cellular recomposition the caterpillar emerged only as a caterpillar of another color, failing to ever take flight as a butterfly.

We need a transformation. For too long we have underinvested in our people and our aina, which are our most-cherished core assets.

As our state Legislature reconvenes for its final weeks of session, we are asking lawmakers to not squander this time and opportunity by simply reinforcing the failed status quo. We are looking for courageous leaders who will champion a new general plan for the islands which swiftly prioritizes our core assets, and provides the foundation for new economic value created locally.

House of Representatives crossover day.
The Hawaii House of Representatives will resume session Monday along with the state Senate, but will it take bold moves to rescue the state? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This plan should include:

1) Redirecting from tourism to agriculture ($80 million reallocation, plus 1,600 new jobs). The Hawaii Tourism Authority has $80 million a year to promote a product that arguably sells itself. We need to redirect that investment to conservation, agricultural production and value-added food industries. Hawaii has the ideal conditions for producing food and our natural environment is cited as the primary reason for tourists to visit, yet both are historically undervalued.

A reallocation of the tourism promotion budget could fund a pilot civilian conservation corps program in the uplands and targeted farming and aquaculture programs along the plains and makai areas. And as tourism reopens, we have to make sure that workers’ health and safety are kept front and center.

2) A universal child care pilot program, ($73.7 million CARES funds, plus 1,473 jobs). As a working mom, I know the importance of quality child care. To get residents back to work, local families need reliable child care. A 2017 study found that an incredible 64% of Hawaii’s 109,000 keiki need child care. I urge our legislators to use a portion of federal CARES funds to address one-fifth of this demand. That would be 1,473 jobs at a total FY 2020-2021 cost of approximately $73.7 million (assuming a living wage of $24.80 an hour).

We are at a pivotal point in the history of our islands.

The new jobs created by a publicly-funded child and elder care program would have several cascading benefits: it would immediately reduce stress on the unemployment system, allow for unpaid caregivers to expand their work availability outside the home, increase gross economic productivity, and ultimately bolster public tax revenues.

3) A pilot program for universal health care ($75 million CARES, 50,000 residents served). Several hundred thousand workers are at risk of losing their health insurance because of job loss, and thousands of employers are struggling to maintain coverage for the workers they are retaining.

The Working Families Coalition is recommending that the state create a temporary subsidy using CARES monies to address this gap. I second their proposal, and support expanding it into a state-sponsored health program using a progressive tax. Decoupling employment and health insurance removes a significant financial burden on small businesses and nonprofits, while providing more certainty for vulnerable employees.

4) Prioritization of climate-ready infrastructure projects ($1 billion state bond issuance). The state is rightly considering a series of “shovel-ready” projects, but the list being considered by the state House is too broad.

I recommend prioritizing projects that will prepare Hawaii for a climate-challenged future. This includes investing in the relocation of major public infrastructure at risk from sea level rise; advancing state-of-the art clean energy projects; electrical and sewer upgrades; and new workforce housing and clean transportation infrastructure. In our current low-interest rate environment, it makes sense to use bonds to pay for critical infrastructure.

We are at a pivotal point in the history of our islands. I hope that our legislators will have the courage to take us in the right direction.

Every campaign season we get tons of emails and commentary from people supporting or opposing particular candidates. Campaign Corner is a forum for healthy — and civil — discussion of candidates and their issues. Endorsements and criticisms are part of a voter’s decision-making process. Here are the ground rules: The column must be written by an identifiable person and accompanied by a head shot and brief bio. The commentary must be original and not published elsewhere. No campaign email blasts. No letter-writing campaigns. Send columns and questions to The opinions and information expressed in Campaign Corner are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Kim Coco Iwamoto

Kim Coco Iwamoto is a mother, business owner and resident of the Ala Moana who is running in the Democratic primary for State House District 26.

Latest Comments (0)

I like her proposals except the publicly funded childcare and eldercare. There’s no doubt we need more affordable childcare options but my preference would be to offer incentives to businesses to offer their own on-site childcare. Good businesses already do this for their employees. As for eldercare, we already subsidize family members who take care of their elderly parents. That’s more than adequate but more quality elder daycare facilities might help to ease the burden.

kbaybaby · 1 year ago

Thank you Kim Coco!  These are excellent suggestions, with careful focus on costs and creating jobs. Unfortunately, some of the people commenting seem not to have read it. Meanwhile, the legislature is considering the opposite--public welfare in the form of tax breaks for businesses and corporations and exemption from the State and County requirements for environmental impact statements and public vetting of plans. And, of course, they can only see tourism as the way to go. I appreciate the alternatives that would make us healthier and happier as a society, and hope you send this to all legislators now!

JusticePlease · 1 year ago

Sounds like we are changing one bad legislator with another. More government programs is not the answer its the problem. Nothing being proposed is going to help any of the business that had to close permanently because of Governor Ige's failed lockdown. Nothing proposed is going to bring back or create new jobs.

Zarf808 · 1 year ago

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