Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Micah Pregitzer, Democratic candidate for state House District 50, which includes Kailua and Kaneohe Bay. The other Democratic candidate is Patrick Branco.
1. Hawaii has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the biggest impact is to the economy and the tourism industry, which has been Hawaii’s biggest economic driver. Do you think state leaders have handled the response to the virus effectively, including the approach to testing and health care as well as the stay-at-home orders that have caused serious economic harm? What would you have done differently?
I do not believe that state leaders have handled the response to the pandemic well. To begin, visitors have continued to enter our shores, even after the 14-day quarantine was put into effect. We should have had an efficient tracking system in place for tourists as soon as the quarantine was instituted.
Additionally, we should have suspended rent and mortgage payments at the beginning of the economic downturn, so that working families and small businesses would have been financially protected. People can’t shelter in place if they’re worried about having a roof over their heads.
Finally, state lawmakers should not have banked over a billion dollars into the state’s rainy day fund. It’s not just raining. It’s pouring. That money should’ve been spent on community needs, including financial assistance for small businesses, community health programs, social services, food security, child care and rental assistance.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
I would not cut pay, entitlements or essential services under any circumstances. Furloughs should also be off the table. Cuts to our public education, human services, health care, environmental and conservation, agriculture and labor programs should likewise be rejected.
Instead of cutting services, we should look at raising revenue. We can increase taxes for Hawaii’s corporations and wealthiest residents, legalize and tax marijuana, close the tax loophole for real estate investment trusts, and pass a constitutional amendment to establish a surcharge on residential investment properties valued at more than a million dollars. Taken together, these measures would generate over a billion dollars for our state’s most critical needs.
Finally, when it comes to cutting unnecessary expenditures, we should start by eliminating the Hawaii Tourism Authority. HTA’s purpose is to market the islands as a paradisiacal visitor destination. COVID-19 has shown how urgently we must diversify our economy, a cause that is undercut by HTA’s very existence.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
To begin, we need to establish a cap on tourism to prevent our visitor industry from overwhelming our communities and natural resources. The coronavirus pandemic has given us a chance and a reason to diversify our economy away from tourism, which has seen our state surpass 10 million visitors annually in recent years. Diversifying our economy away from tourism will, in turn, reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced by the visitor industry.
I believe that Hawaii has all of the natural resources needed to establish a vibrant renewable energy industry, including solar, wind and wave power. Research into renewable energy is vital as climate change continues to threaten our shores and presents numerous opportunities for economic expansion. Additionally, we should prioritize sustainable agriculture, which will increase food security for Hawaii’s people and decrease our reliance on volatile and carbon-intensive food imports.
4. 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? Would you support reductions in benefits including in pension contributions for public employees in light of virus-related budget shortfalls?
I’m not satisfied with the state’s plans to pay down our unfunded liabilities, but I don’t believe that we should reduce benefits to fix the problem. Instead, we should focus on finding new sources of revenue, so that our state can cover not just current liabilities, but future costs. Additionally, we should implement a Medicare-for-All program at the state level, which will significantly lessen the state’s and Hawaii residents’ cost of health care for generations to come.
5. The state’s virus response effort has exposed deep rifts within the top levels of government, including between the Legislature and Gov. David Ige. He will be in office two more years, so what would you do to ensure public confidence in Hawaii’s government officials and top executives?
I am running to be the people’s representative. Too often, our government is dominated by special interests that put the desires of the wealthy before the needs of working families. High-priced lobbyists are paid to protect big business, while silencing the voices of our neighbors.
To give everyone a say in our democracy, I will support legislation that cracks down on the unlimited amounts of corporate cash that are flowing into our election system. I will also work to end the misuse of taxpayer funds, so that the people’s money enriches our communities, not political profiteers. Above all, I promise to work with my constituents to improve our community by constantly seeking their feedback on the issues we’re facing together.
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. How important do you see this as an issue for Hawaii? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability throughout the state? Do you support police reform efforts such as mandatory disclosure of misconduct records by police agencies and adequate funding for law enforcement oversight boards that have been established in recent years?
The protests spreading across our country are born out of frustration with injustice and inequality. George Floyd, like so many other people of color before him, was killed in an act of unmitigated police brutality. We’ve been here before.
But we don’t have to be here again. People’s patience is being tested right now, but our common humanity is not on trial. It’s time to learn the lessons of the past, one of which is surely that we can no longer abide the suppression of our most vulnerable neighbors.
We should absolutely enact police reform, including mandatory public disclosure of misconduct records and fully funding law enforcement oversight boards. That’s the least we can do. We demilitarize our police force and reallocate funding from policing to public health, education and rehabilitation programs.
It’s not easy work. It’s a challenge that each generation faces, a responsibility we have to those who will inherit the society we create. The senseless violence committed against minorities each day makes our task more urgent. It’s a mission we are all asked to perform, together.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I support expanding democratic and civic engagement whenever possible. That said, citizens initiatives are often proposed as a result of the failure of government to respond to the needs of everyday people, which shows that we must make all levels of government more accountable to the public.
Also, if we enact citizens initiatives, we must also pass genuine campaign finance reform, so that referendums do not advance corporate greed at the expense of the common good.
8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
While I understand that the governor’s suspension of open government laws during the early stages of the pandemic was intended to allow departments to quickly respond to the crisis, the conditions that led to this decision have changed. Open government laws should be immediately reinstituted, so that the public has access to meetings at which critical decisions are being made about how to protect public health and allocate taxpayer dollars to uplift our community.
I’m distressed at the extent to which the public has been kept out of governmental processes, allowing political leaders to make decisions without significant input and oversight from we, the people.
9. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs? How big of a priority is this for you?
To take care of Hawaii’s people, we must mālama our planet. Climate change is an existential crisis, which we must address with much greater urgency. According to the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission, during the 21st century, sea level rise will cost our state $19 billion and pose serious threats to public health.
I believe that we must grow green jobs in Hawaii by investing heavily in renewable energy – especially battery storage capacity – and instituting a carbon tax to disincentivize carbon emissions, especially from large fossil fuel emitters. I will also support efforts to begin a managed retreat from our shorelines in areas that will be impacted by sea level rise.
Sustainability further requires us to preserve culturally significant spaces, which is why I will work to protect our aina and water resources from being commodified by corporations at the expense of Hawaii’s indigenous population.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Our state’s exorbitant cost of living is the biggest issue facing my district. We have the highest housing, electricity and food prices in the nation. Despite those well-known problems, however, workers still fail to earn the wages necessary to pay their bills, while developers continually price housing units beyond the reach of working families.
We can’t pay lip service to addressing the cost of living through meager tax credits and incremental adjustments to the minimum wage. We need to institute major policy changes immediately to make Hawaii affordable for all who call our islands home.
I will work to create a living wage of at least $17/hour, establish paid family and sick leave, build truly affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of area median income, and implement measures to control our state’s rising cost of child care.
11. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
It’s time to deliver the schools our keiki deserve. Hawaii spends less on education than any other state when total tax dollars are considered. Our state’s teacher shortage has climbed to over 1,000 positions annually because of low teacher pay and bloated class sizes. Our students are mired in standardized tests, rather than immersed in real-life learning.
As a long-time educator, I am committed to fully funding our education system. I will champion legislation to increase funding for public schools by at least $500 million per year by reintroducing a constitutional amendment to establish a surcharge on residential investment properties worth more than a million dollars.
The version of this amendment that was struck down by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2018 contained changes incorporated by legislative leaders that made the measure ambiguous. I will reintroduce the language of the amendment that was originally proposed, which was specifically targeted toward high-end investment properties, clearly defined, and engineered to put our keiki’s future before the fortunes of real estate speculators.