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 Troy Hashimoto, Democratic candidate for state House District 8, which includes Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku and Waikapu. The other Democratic candidates are Robert Hill and Ka’apuni Aiwohi.
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?
When COVID-19 first hit, there were so many unknowns and I believe with the facts at hand, the right decisions were made to “flatten the curve.” The proof is in our results. In general, the state has been behind the curve, with wide-scale testing and I have continually asked the state Department of Health and Hawaii Emergency Management to make this a priority.
With the federal CARES funds now available, it is no longer a resource issue, it is a matter of getting organized and executing. I believe asymptomatic patients are the biggest threat of continuing a first wave and creating a substantial second wave. Similarly, I also believe the data does not support us staying closed. We must open the economy at a quicker pace while aggressively testing and tracing.
2. The state budget is facing record shortfalls. How would you balance the budget? What would you cut? What would you protect?
With shortfalls in the state budget, everything is on the table. All departments will have to go through their budget and eliminate unnecessary spending and any vacancies. Aside from this, all excess balances of special funds must be transferred to the general fund and most tax exemptions of the general excise tax must be eliminated.
The federal government also has made available the municipal liquidity facility, which is a line of credit to state and local governments who have seen their revenues collapse during the COVID-19 crisis. I believe we are in a situation where using this line of credit is warranted and necessary. My hope is that the federal government in their next round of stimulus relief will also offer federal dollars for state and counties for the purposes of budget shortfalls.
3. What do you think should be done to diversify the economy? What would you do as an elected official to make that happen?
I recently read an eye-opening column by Lee Cataluna who outlined the decades of warnings by Hawaii governors to diversify the economy from the time of Gov. John Burns. Of course, the warnings were not heeded because in part of the difficulty to create many types of industries in the middle of the Pacific.
Hawaii must play to its strengths, but there has been tremendous push-back in possible areas, including astronomy and the bio-tech industry. Therefore, our options are very limited. The first step is likely developing a collective of what the community is willing to allow in the state and pushing it forward.
With this in mind, tourism whether we like it or not, will be our economy for the foreseeable future. A priority must be focusing on attracting visitors with a higher spend rate. It is my opinion that Hawaii should not be marketed as a destination for all.
During the peak, a tipping point was being reached with an overwhelming number of visitors. I believe we must double down on our main economic driver but do it in a way that is thoughtful and strategic.
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 am satisfied with the current plan to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities, which is over a 30-year period. It is a promise that was made to public employees and must be fulfilled. I do not support reductions in benefits for existing employees.
There likely will be a point where benefits for any new employees may have to be revisited because of our fiscal reality.
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 believe that disagreement is healthy and normal in the political process. Democracy is built on a foundation of checks and balances. Therefore, I believe the Legislature has been asking tough questions of the administration on a regular basis to ensure that the very best outcome is achieved for the people of Hawaii.
I think at times the media sensationalizes what goes on in hearings, but in reality, once the cameras are turned off there is a lot of collaboration going on among the legislative and the executive branches. At the end of the day, it is up to the governor and his cabinet to actually execute day-to-day activities of government, and we must support them in their efforts if we want to see anything get done.
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?
I can only speak from my experiences with my local police department on Maui. Over the years, I have not heard of widespread concerns with MPD interaction with the community, but I believe there is always room for improvement. From what I have seen, MPD has always acted professionally and to my understanding, has always investigated incidents of misconduct in a timely manner.
I understand the frustration across the nation by actions of a few police officers, but we cannot make sweeping generalizations of all police officers. All police agencies are locally based, and even in Hawaii, we must make an assessment by each county. Therefore, oversight decisions are best made by the counties who fund and oversee their operations based on their own communities’ feedback.
7. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizens initiative process. Do you support such a process?
No. I believe a citizens initiative processes favors special interest groups who are well financed and do not allow for issues to be thoroughly vetted. The process becomes more of who can create a better marketing campaign rather than how to best address an issue.
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?
I believe given the circumstances, there were so many unknowns at the time when these laws were suspended, and it was difficult to determine what was sufficient. However, I believe it is important for all agencies and decision-making bodies to follow the spirit of the Sunshine Law and open records law no matter the circumstances.
This period showed what worked and what did not and hopefully changes can be made accordingly. The pandemic has also shown that our laws need updating to allow for the broader use of video teleconferencing.
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?
There are many aspects to addressing the effects of climate change. My focus has been on roadway infrastructure projects since I serve on the Transportation Committee. A recent report by the state Department of Transportation identified 10 roadways in Maui County that will be threatened by sea level rise and the cost to mitigate is upward of $15 billion – just for these Maui County-specific projects.
Therefore, cost is a serious concern and raising the appropriate revenue to deal with these issues must be a top concern. This is especially true with the dwindling revenues from the highway fund, new sources of income must be identified if we are going to see our way through this issue.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most important concern for my district is addressing the overcrowding of schools within the district. A new Central Maui middle school is sorely needed as both Iao and Maui Waena are bursting at the seams and relief is sorely needed for our middle school students. A new elementary school is also needed in the near future.
Funds for planning have been included in the state budget for this coming year, but completing the project will take a large financial commitment.
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.
One area that must be worked on is being able to make government employees more flexible and being able to redeploy them where they are most needed. I understand that this may be difficult with negotiated contracts and with the current silos that exist, but it is necessary for streamlining and modernizing state government.
The recent challenges with finding enough staff to assist with unemployment showed the inability and slow pace of redeployment. In the end, although some employees were moved internally, the majority working at unemployment are voluntary, not reassigned. This must change and cross-training in areas that may be needed during other types of emergencies is necessary.