Categorized | Government, News

Mayor Kenoi testifies in Honolulu before the state legislators

The text of Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi’s testimony

January 12, 2011

The Honorable David Y. Ige, Chair and Members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means
415 South Beretania Street
Hawai’i State Capitol
Honolulu, Hawai’i 96813

The Honorable Marcus R. Oshiro, Chair and Members of the House
Committee on Finance
415 South Beretania Street
Hawai’i State Capitol
Honolulu, Hawai’i 96813

Aloha, Chair Ige, Chair Oshiro and distinguished members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Finance Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to outline our priorities on issues important to the County of Hawai’i in 2011.

We have all heard a great deal in recent weeks about the budget challenges confronting the state, and the County of Hawai’i continues to chart its way through equally challenging budget difficulties. Declining property revenues and increasing costs forced the county to cope with the largest budget shortfalls in County history in the 2009-2010 fiscal year and in the current budget year.

For the coming year, we project yet another budget shortfall that will once again force us to make painful budget cuts. The unavoidable truth is we now have a county government that we cannot afford. We will continue to reduce the size and cost of government, and to refocus our limited resources on core, critical services. Government must do more with less, and programs that are not essential to our core county mission must be set aside.

Despite our difficulties, we see reason for hope, and we see opportunities. Earlier this month, this committee heard testimony from leading economists Paul Brewbaker and Carl Bonham that funding capital improvement projects and investing in public infrastructure is a key government strategy for stimulating private sector economic activity as we begin to emerge from the recession. We agree, and in the County of Hawai’i we have taken a number of steps to push out construction projects to stimulate the economy.

Last October we asked the Hawai’i County Council to authorize $56 million in new general obligation bonds to build critically needed projects to ease traffic congestion in Kona and Hilo, including the Kapiolani Extension to help the University of Hawai’i at Hilo to grow; to build badly needed parks for our youth in Puna and Kohala; and to build affordable housing in Kona.

Moving forward with these critically needed infrastructure projects during this challenging economic time offers a variety of benefits. Borrowing costs for governments with good credit ratings are near all-time lows, which means taxpayers will pay less in interest. Meanwhile, the construction industry nationwide is struggling, which has caused construction companies to bid aggressively for government contracts. Bid prices have plummeted, and this highly competitive environment means the taxpayers today are getting the best possible prices on public works projects while governments invest in critically needed infrastructure such as airports, harbors, roads and bridges.

We know that tourism arrivals and visitor spending are showing early signs of a recovery, including the milestone announcement that Continental Airlines will soon begin daily direct flights from Los Angeles to Hilo. But we also know people who are still struggling to make ends meet in this economy, and many of them work in the construction industry. We cannot sit back and watch as our working families suffer through some of the worst economic times in County history.

This is the time for state and local governments to make an investment in our communities. We want to carry forward the momentum created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which injected more than $115 million in new federal dollars into the County of Hawai’i economy alone. These federal projects paid immediate dividends in jobs created, and work completed. Now it is time for local governments to step up to their responsibilities, and do their part to help stimulate the economy. Our working families are counting on us.

As you consider which state projects to put forward, we hope you will consider our input on some proposals we believe will be of particular benefit to our citizens, and will help stimulate the economy. We hope your committee will consider including these projects in a state construction stimulus package because they advance key community objectives, including improving health care, relieving traffic congestion, protecting public safety and encouraging growth of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.

Kapiolani Street Extension, $8.7 million
We continue to seek your support for the efforts of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and our community college system to grow as part of a larger strategy to use higher education as an economic engine. The university is now the second largest employer in East Hawai’i, and we ask for your support as we seek to position UH Hilo for continued growth. We also urge the Legislature to support State plans for the long-awaited permanent community college site in West Hawai’i.

The Kapiolani Street Extension project will lay the groundwork for a new era of growth with UH Hilo by providing a connector road that will open up 42 acres on land in urban Hilo for development of badly needed student housing. The single largest impediment to growth for UH Hilo is a lack of housing for out-of-state and local students, and the university owns land next to campus where this housing can be built. The Kapiolani Street Extension will provide access to these lands while also providing a new two-lane transportation corridor that will ease traffic congestion.

Mid-Level Road (Ane Keohokalole Highway), Kona
Ane Keohokalole Highway will be a six-mile arterial from Palani Road in Kailua-Kona to Kalaoa, mauka of Kona International Airport. The new arterial will stimulate the construction of thousands of homes (Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, affordable and market), commercial development, healthcare and recreational facilities. Construction funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is already well underway on the first phase of Ane Keohokalole from Palani Road to Kealakehe Parkway, and will comprise 11,000 feet of two-lane highway. An additional 5,000-foot segment from Kealakehe Parkway to Hina Lani Street has already been rough graded.

Also known as the Mid-Level Road, this project will relieve congestion on the crowded Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. The completed road will provide an alternative route between the town of Kailua-Kona, through an area slated for urban development to a large commercial and light industrial area near Kona International Airport. It will also provide an alternate route to the airport, and when completed will connect Hina Lani Street with a new access road to the future University of Hawai’i’s West Hawai’i community college campus.

The Legislature previously appropriated $15 million in state funds for the Ane Keohokalole project that has not yet been released by the state Department of Transportation. We ask that your committees support the release of those monies through a resolution or a new appropriation if needed to make these funds available for Ane Keoholalole Phase 2 from Hina-Lani to Kaiminani. These funds would cover the cost of paving the area that is rough graded as well as further improvements that will benefit the La’i ’Opua 2020 project supported by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. It would also cover the cost of an environmental assessment, engineering and design work for Phase 2.

Improvements to Highway 130, Keaau-to-Pahoa Road
The state has identified five intersections across the state with the highest numbers of accidents and the highest numbers of serious accidents, and four of those intersections are on this road. The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) includes $3 million for design work and $100,000 to purchase portions of the right-of-way for major improvements to this heavily traveled and highly congested roadway, and a $600,000 state appropriation is needed as a match to the federal funding for that design work. The state is also planning $2 million in more near-term improvements to the intersection of the highway and Old Government Road at the main entrance to Pahoa, and a $200,000 state appropriation is needed as a state match for that project.

North Kona Well, $1.3 million
The County also supports efforts by the Department of Water Supply to improve the quality and reliability of the North Kona water system by constructing a new well. This is part of a much larger effort to shift from low-level water sources to higher elevation sources, and to this end the Department of Water Supply has already allocated nearly $30 million for water system improvements in the region. The existing water system is barely able to meet the current water demand.

Kona Community Hospital Emergency Room, $10 million
(Hawaii Health Systems Corporation)
The Kona Community Hospital Emergency Room was built to accommodate 10,000 patient visits per year, and is now seeing more than 18,000 visits per year. The emergency department needs to be expanded and modernized to improve patient access, flow and privacy to provide for a better working environment for staff, and the County supports HHSC’s efforts to make this essential improvement. In addition, the aging hospital urgently needs improvements to its roofs, parking lots, fire sprinkler and emergency generator systems.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with all of our distinguished state legislators as we navigate the challenging economic environment that lies ahead. Mahalo for your support and your commitment to our community.


William P. Kenoi


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