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Legislature 2014 opens; Kenoi addresses lawmakers

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

State lawmakers headed Wednesday to the Capitol to start their 4-month legislative session where the budget and preschool education likely will be among the top priorities.

Senate Minority Opening Day Comments at the 28th State Legislature by State Senator Sam Slom

Senate President Kim, Governor Abercrombie, distinguished former State Senators, guests and overburdened taxpayers of Hawaii, on behalf of the entire Senate Minority, Aloha!

The inclusion of our past Senators, in this our 55th anniversary year of Statehood, and the publication of a book of memories, is most welcome.

History, experience and perspective should be important reminders to us as we move forward. Otherwise, we are bound to repeat past mistakes.

Let me acknowledge the passing at the end of December, of Hawaii’s greatest fiscal watchdog, and the taxpayers’ best friend, Mr. Lowell Kalapa of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Lowell will be missed during this Session. He helped all of us understand the consequences of government fiscal actions.

Many of us are glad that 2013 is behind us, because the year did not live up to expectations of change or measurable improvement and was difficult for our local families and small businesses.

Let me say that I was advised to keep my remarks “light” today and refrain from being too “hard hitting.” Light? That’s not in my DNA. We have serious problems in Hawaii that too many choose to ignore or deny. We must confront and solve them so we can have a better Hawaii for all our citizens.

My professional experience and discussions with real people in the marketplace, tell me, despite what some politicians say, Hawaii has not turned an economic corner, our economy has not rebounded, and across the board we are still struggling. Recently, the State Council on Revenues reduced its economic growth projections from 4.1% to 3.3%.

From my perspective, we have become a nation, and a state, of entitlement. Our work incentive, our American individual exceptionalism, have been eroded by a growing clamor by those who think they are entitled to the fruits of other peoples’ labors.

Last week, we noted the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” It is another war, similar to international conflicts and the “war on drugs,” that cost much, but wars we have not won. Since 1964, more than $21 TRILLION has been transferred in the U.S. from some taxpayers to others thought to be “entitled.”

In 1964, approximately 14% of Americans were classified by government as being below the “poverty level.” Today, it is more than 21%. Clearly, government is moving in the wrong direction, creating more poverty.

Money thrown at a problem does not bring positive results. Money without a sound, workable plan and able leadership, results in more failure.

Consider:

• Our state’s existing $25 BILLION unfunded liability.

• Providing more subsidies with lack of oversight to our largest energy monopoly, which keeps increasing electricity rates, and experimenting with wind turbines, and undersea cables, instead of deregulating to help consumers.

• Allowing even higher salaries, benefits and $10 million more to a deficit ridden UH athletics program. A UH that is proud to have “52% of the students able to graduate in 6 years?”

• Spending nearly a million dollars on a “Pono Choices” sex program to teach 11 and 12 year olds how to have sex?

• Proposing a 36% pay raise for the Chief Elections Officer who failed miserably during the last election.

• Raising motor vehicle fees and taxes while not repairing roads and potholes? Are you serious?

• Using $204 million to create a flawed Hawaii Health Connector for Obamacare?

• Funding a study on “Global Warming” while the streets, highways and streams of Hawaii are littered with trash and sewage. Are you serious?

Members of the public, who pay our salaries, are fed up. They demand we listen to them and change. We better do so, starting today.

Taxpayer expenditures for welfare and social services exceed expenditures for government education. We must refuse to support those who choose not to work or are financially irresponsible. Leading the nation in food stamps, and welfare subsidies, and being among the top for homelessness, are not badges of honor.

During the Not So Special-Special Session on same sex marriage held in November, 10,000 people came to the State Capitol. Many weren’t registered to vote. Few had been to their Capitol before. In the end, nearly all were disappointed, frustrated, or angry because of the perceived arrogance of their representatives. They felt betrayed.
“LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!” was their cry.

Article 1, Section 1 of the Hawaii State Constitution says, “All political power of this state is inherent in the people and the responsibility or the exercise thereof rests with the people. All government is founded on this authority.”

It seems many in government have forgotten that we derive our power from the people.

A state without accountability and lack of consequences sets a dangerous precedent. We need meaningful change and must provide consequences for bad behavior and poor performance in government.
Every year, the Senate Minority has introduced legislation providing the people more empowerment and choices, as well as greater government transparency.

This year, we again have introduced measures to allow for Initiative, Referendum, Recall and Term Limits. Hopefully, the people will become more engaged so the Majority will at least hear these measures.

Hawaii requires True Economic Development. Instead of artificially forcing entry and training wages up, and taxing and regulating small business further, we must listen to our local job creators and incentivise them. Those in government who have never met a private payroll shouldn’t be giving their failed advice to businesses and adding more taxes, regulations and employer mandates.

We say everything we do here is “for the keiki.” But is it? With sexual assaults and harm to our children increasing, and more evidence of human trafficking of minors, Hawaii needs more meaningful protection of our keiki. We should start with adoption of Jessica’s Law and harsher penalties for those who hurt or endanger our children.

Our skies may become crowded with drones and unmanned devices. We welcome their positive use but must be vigilant with unlawful government or law enforcement use that violates 4th Amendment Constitutional guarantees. We shouldn’t condone NSA-type spying on law abiding citizens.

I pledge my efforts to support good legislation regardless of who introduces it; to analyze and report honestly on the impact of all bills, to work towards ending Legislative exemptions and to boost transparency.

Let use celebrate our individual, God-given liberty and our ability to change for the better.

Our goal, as I outlined last Session, is not a “New Day,” but, A BETTER DAY. This is not a partisan position. We can navigate a different course. Turn that State Government canoe into the wind and explore the greatness that Hawaii can be. For, We, The People.

God Bless Hawaii, our men and women in the armed forces, and the United States of America. Aloha and Mahalo

In his opening day remarks, Speaker of the House Joseph M. Souki called on members of the state House of Representatives to “be bold” in crafting legislation during the 2014 session.

With former representatives of the House in attendance to mark the 55th anniversary of statehood, Souki told the legislators that the strengthening economy provides lawmakers with an opportunity to take care of not only issues facing the State today but to deal with long-term fiscal and social issues.

“With Hawaii’s economy growing, construction stable, tourism strong and unemployment down, there is every reason for hope and optimism,” Souki said. “While the past few years have placed us in survival mode, this year, we have a real chance to create opportunities.”

Given the economic conditions, Souki asked House members to consider removing the cap placed on the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) allocated to the counties, allowing them to better support Hawaii’s tourism industry.

“In this strong economy, should we not be thinking about a greater partnership with our counties, who provide much of the services that directly support tourism?” he asked lawmakers.

“They are the ones who maintain our roads and parks and provide the law enforcement officers and first responders who directly serve our visitors as well as our kamaaina.”

“I believe the gesture is not only long overdue, but should be viewed as a better long-term investment in our counties and in our number one industry.”

To compensate for the loss in state revenues, Souki suggested the State study ways to collect sales tax that are generated by out-of-state online companies and presently go uncollected.

“Every day, they compete toe-to-toe with local companies on a playing field that is clearly tilted in their favor. It’s time we level the playing field,” he said. “We should also consider joining other states who have banded together to look at this issue for a collective solution, as well as consult with our congressional delegation on actions being considered at the federal level.”

Souki also noted that the law that has increased Hawaii’s personal income taxes in recent years will end in 2015.

“The law that allowed that to happen was passed several years ago during a severe budget shortfall, but will sunset in 2015,” Souki said. “It should be allowed to do so because that’s good for our hard working families.”

Acknowledging a joint House-Senate legislative package, Souki asked House members to consider legislation to better care for Hawaii’s seniors and to look at long-term care needs facing families with elderly members. He also asked the House members to look at how they can better address environmental concerns, including climate change and invasive species.

“We have an opportunity to not only strengthen our economy, but to do it in a way that protects our fragile environment, whether it’s from damaging climate changes or from invasive species. We don’t have to choose one over the other. A strong economy allows us to sustain both.”

Souki also recommended that the representatives look at creating a system of dispensaries or locations where those in need can legally buy marijuana for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor.

Although the State legalized medical marijuana and the cultivation of a limited amount, there is no legal way to purchase either the seeds or starter plants for cultivation or to legally purchase marijuana in the Islands.

Opening Day Remarks by House Speaker Joseph Souki

My fellow members and guests, aloha and welcome to the 2014 Regular Session of the Hawaii State Legislature. Thank you all for being here today.

The first thing I would like to do is thank all of the House members for their efforts in the recently completed special session. As we all know, it was one of the most controversial and divisive sessions in recent memory. It was divisive, not only for us, but for our entire community.

But no matter what your stand on the issue, I want to thank you for your participation. Because as we all know, in a democracy, the discussion and debates are just as important—if not more so—than the resulting decision.

And so now it is time to put all of that behind us and to move forward. More importantly, we need to help our people heal in the spirit of aloha and ohana that has always guided this community.

How do we do that?

To me, the best way is to lead by example—to come together, as one House, to help our citizens provide a better life for themselves and their children. That is the way we’ve always done it. That’s the aloha way.

Fortunately, we embark on this session in one of the best fiscal positions in a long time. With Hawaii’s economy growing, construction stable, tourism strong and unemployment down, there is every reason for hope and optimism. While the past few years have placed us in survival mode, this year we have a real chance to create opportunities.

We have an opportunity to honor our kupuna and help our families with their long-term care.

We have an opportunity to help the homeless and to mend our social safety net that has been torn and tattered in recent years.

We have an opportunity to repair our schools and help our teachers provide the best education for our keiki, from early learning to higher education.

And speaking of education, we have an opportunity to improve literacy in Hawaii by funding a statewide program to support the efforts of the Governor’s Council for Literacy.

We have an opportunity to improve the infrastructure that our businesses need to grow and prosper, thereby creating more jobs for our people.

We have an opportunity to not only strengthen our economy, but to do it in a way that protects our fragile environment, whether it’s from damaging climate change or invasive species.

We don’t have to choose one over the other. A strong economy allows us to sustain both.

We need to not only spend wisely on social services, but to prudently provide for our long-term financial obligations and to strengthen our rainy day fund. But to do all that we also need something that we haven’t talked a lot about recently—and that is Vision, with a capital “V.”

As leaders, our job is to both create laws to take care of today’s challenges and to anticipate long-term issues for tomorrow. However, vision is not just a “feel good” concept. It is easy to talk about vision. It is much harder to turn vision into reality.

It is easy to talk about health care reform, but much harder to realize that goal when faced with the real life difficulties of implementation and human failures. Just as it was difficult to pass Hawaii’s Prepaid Health Care Act, back in 1974—a law that has benefitted the majority of Hawaii’s working families since its passage.

That measure was passed, primarily because of the vision of its authors and because of their willingness to fight for that vision.

Here today, I see many familiar faces, some with whom I worked side by side in the 1978 state constitutional convention, a watershed event that created among its many achievements the need for a balanced state budget.

Because of the nature of what we were doing, vision was not just an afterthought but a guiding principal of all that we thought about and did.

I see many other familiar faces—dare I say, a bit younger with whom I’ve worked to solve some of the most pressing issues facing us today. In them, I see a new generation of leaders, young, eager and full of energy. To them, I want to issue this personal challenge not only for this session but for their entire public service careers:

BE A VISIONARY in a way that many of your predecessors here today were. Be careful and conservative when it comes to the public’s welfare and finances. But where your own careers are concerned, take a chance; take up the challenges, facing you and all of us.

BE BOLD and look beyond your own wellbeing, and beyond today’s needs.
For example, contrary to what many believe, our tax laws exist to make Hawaii a better place to live and work. We all have a vested interest in its upkeep and wellbeing. We all have an obligation to the whole. The distribution of that obligation can be confusing even during the best of times.

Long-term social trends constantly change the landscape and we need to make frequent adjustments to our tax laws.

It’s not an easy task but a necessary one. It’s necessary if we want to be fair, and it’s necessary if we want to keep Hawaii a place with aloha and a place we are all proud to call home. In looking at our budget, yes, be fiscally prudent. But let’s also look at how we can do it better that makes more sense for us today.

The Transient Accommodations Tax on tourism helps us provide for the main driver of our economic engine. In this strong economy, should we not be thinking about a greater partnership with our counties who provide much of the services that directly support tourism?

They are the ones who maintain our roads and parks and provide the law enforcement officers and first responders who serve our visitors as well as our kamaina. Therefore, let’s look at removing the cap on the counties’ share of the TAT.

It’s time.

I believe the gesture is not only long overdue, but should be viewed as a better long-term investment in our counties and in our number one industry.

And speaking of taxes, Hawaii’s personal income tax is currently one of the highest in the nation. The law that allowed that to happen was passed several years ago during a severe budget shortfall, but will sunset in 2015. And it should be allowed to do so because that’s good for Hawaii’s hard working families.

In both of these instances, the returns on ensuring a more robust economy will be well worth the investment—a cost, however, that is substantial for the State. So at the same time, let’s look at a number of other sources of revenues that better reflect the world and circumstances we live in today.

Let’s look at changes that would more sensibly spread that burden among all who benefit from living and working in these islands.
Let’s look at working with the state Attorney General to better enforce existing tax requirements for those who do business—a great deal of business—in the state.

I am referring to those who earn millions through the Internet who are not located in Hawaii but profit from sales generated by our people. Technology has revolutionized the way companies do business throughout the world. And that’s amazing and wonderful.

But every day, they compete toe-to-toe with local companies on a playing field that is clearly tilted in their favor. It’s time we level the playing field. We should also join other states who have banded together to look at this issue, as well as consult with our congressional delegation on actions being considered at the federal level.

Our tax laws also make allowances for seniors whose incomes are usually fixed and very limited. That is the right thing to do—for most of them.

But very wealthy seniors who draw over $100,000 in pensions per person are also the beneficiaries of those tax considerations. Let’s fix that anomaly so that everyone pays their fair share no matter where their income comes from.

Recently, there has been much news about other states legalizing the use of marijuana. While I am not suggesting we go that route, Hawaii does permit the limited cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In spite of that, there are no dispensaries or places where you can legally buy cannabis even with a prescription. I think we need to fix that gap in the law before we talk about anything else.

In addition to the House-Senate majority’s package, these are a few issues I hope you will discuss in this session. I look to all of you for much more and the opportunity to create a new vision for Hawaii.

We have a lot of work before us.

To tackle it successfully, we will need to work together—to hold to our beliefs but be willing to compromise when necessary for the greater good.

We will need to bring our communities together and engage and allow them to take ownership in the legislative process. Because that is the only way we will achieve anything meaningful and lasting.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it. I thank you for your commitment and look forward to working with all of you.

Mahalo and aloha.

Mayor Kenoi addresses Legislature

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi addressed the State Senate Committee on Ways & Means and the State House Committee on Finance Wednesday, the opening day of the 2014 Hawai’i State Legislature.

His submitted testimony is below:

Aloha, Chair Ige, Chair Luke and distinguished members of the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance Committees. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to outline our priorities for the Island of Hawaii for the 2014 legislative session.

We remain cautiously optimistic that the economy is slowly recovering. We are hopeful that the difficult decisions made at both the state and county levels are contributing to the increasingly positive economic trends. However, we recognize that we all have a great deal more work to do to support our communities.

We would like to underscore the importance of a number of state initiatives, and respectfully request that the Legislature support these projects to create jobs, provide relief from traffic congestion, protect public safety, and invest in critical infrastructure.

We are prepared to assist our legislators and the state of Hawaii with these projects in any way possible, and look forward to working with you to implement and expedite the following state initiatives.

TRANSPORTATION

Improvements to Highway 130, Keaau-Pahoa Highway

We again ask for your support to provide urgently needed traffic relief to thousands of working people who are commuting each day on the Kea’au-Pahoa Highway. This highly congested state highway is the only major route in and out of Lower Puna, and serves one of the fastest growing regions in our state.

Last year the state began construction on the first phase of the plan to convert the existing shoulder lane system on the highway into permanent lanes, and design work is underway for the second phase of the shoulder lane project. We appreciate the support the Legislature has already given to this critically needed transportation infrastructure.

We also ask your committees to press ahead with the larger plan to expand more than nine miles of the Keaau-Pahoa Highway to four lanes. State studies show that four intersections along this highway rank among the most dangerous in the state based on the numbers of serious accidents, and improvements to this thoroughfare are an urgent matter of public safety.

A design consultant has been selected for this larger project to increase the capacity of this highway and make it safer, but no firm source of construction funding has yet been identified. Your commitment to provide state funding for this project would protect public safety and significantly improve the quality of life for the residents of Puna.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Civil Defense Sirens

We strongly support the administration’s request for an extra $2.5 million in each of the next two fiscal years to modernize the state civil defense siren system, which is critical to protect public safety. The Legislature has already provided $16.4 million to begin its statewide modernization effort, and we thank you for that support.

Contractors began work around the state in 2013 on the first phases of this project, and work in the County of Hawaii is expected to begin this spring. This initiative will convert the existing radio-activated siren system to a more reliable satellite- and cellular-based system.

The additional $5 million for the siren systems over the next two years would be used to add new sirens to better notify the public in the event of an emergency. That would include 36 additional, modern sirens planned for Hawaii Island, and we urge your committees to continue this effort to protect our communities and expand this important piece of our public safety infrastructure.

CHILDREN AND YOUTH

Statewide Juvenile Intake and Assessment Centers

The Hawaii Juvenile Justice Working Group last month issued a compelling report that demonstrates the need for alternatives to incarceration for young offenders, particularly for youths who are convicted of misdemeanor offenses.

The report noted that each bed at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu costs state taxpayers $199,320 per year, which underscores the fiscal impacts of incarceration of our youth.

Last year the Office of Youth Services in partnership with the Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney launched the first juvenile intake and assessment center in East Hawaii with federal funding from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This pilot program assesses at-risk youth who have been arrested for minor or status offenses, identifies their needs, and links them and their families with appropriate services.

These youths are not a threat to public safety, and diverting them out of the criminal justice system helps to free up our police officers for more important patrol duties, making better use of our public safety resources.

Additional federal funding has been awarded to continue this initiative in 2014, and we strongly support the effort by OYS to expand this program to other islands and to Kona.

We also ask the Legislature to support statewide initiatives to increase funding for truancy prevention programs, and to place juvenile parole officers on Neighbor Islands. Current plans call for hiring a juvenile parole officer in East Hawaii and a second Kona parole officer to supervise and assist youths who have been incarcerated.

We need to provide the necessary resources to intervene and divert these youths out of the criminal justice system and into services that will help them to succeed.

HIGHER EDUCATION

College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building

We ask for your continued support in building on the successes of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and our community college system, which have allowed higher education to emerge as an economic engine on Hawaii Island.

The university is now the second largest employer in East Hawaii, and is preparing our young people for success in our community and across the state. The continued growth of our higher educational system is essential for our economic success and our future.

In 2011 the College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo became the first school of pharmacy in Hawaii and the Pacific Region to become fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. The college is the only school in the state offering a doctorate in pharmacy, and has been an extraordinary success.

An economic impact study in 2011 found the college is generating more than $50 million per year in economic activity statewide, and each dollar of investment in salaries at the college is attracting more than three dollars in spending from outside sources.

The college was granted accreditation before obtaining permanent facilities, and it is time to provide a permanent home for the college to meet its long-range needs and assure it retains accreditation. Providing a permanent home for the college will allow it to fulfill its promise as a center of excellence in education and health sciences.

We strongly agree with the request by the administration and the Board of Regents for $28 million in general obligation and $5 million in revenue bonds to finance the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building.

HEALTH CARE

Primary Care Training and Rural Residency Program

The state and Hawaii Island continue to face a severe physician shortage, and projections by the John A. Burns School of Medicine suggest the physician shortage will dramatically worsen in the next five years as many doctors retire.

An important piece of the solution for our communities is the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency Program, which was recently notified that it has met the requirements for two-year accreditation.

The program is actively recruiting, and will welcome its first class in July. National research shows that 80 percent of residents practice close to the facilities where they train, and we know this program will help ease the physician shortage in our county and in rural areas across the state.

We continue to support efforts by the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation and our Hawaii Island delegation to seek a state commitment of $2.8 million per year for the HHSC primary care training program. This includes the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency program, and will also offer training to advanced practice nurses from programs at University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hilo, and to students from the UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy.

This program will produce inter-disciplinary teams that can care for four times as many patients as independent practitioners, and will expand to serve rural communities on each of the islands. We are convinced this is an innovative and effective strategy for improving access to primary care services.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Kona International Airport Improvements

We strongly support the administration’s plans for urgently needed improvements for Kona International Airport, and appreciate the decision by the Legislature to appropriate $37.5 million for an international arrivals building, and $70 million for a major terminal expansion.

We continue to work collaboratively with state Department of Transportation and community organizations to encourage the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to reopen the international arrivals inspection facilities in Kona. State investment in Kona airport infrastructure including the international arrivals building is essential to the success of those efforts.

Your continued support for the Kona airport improvements is important to the state as a whole. Honolulu International Airport operates at its top capacity during busier times of the year, and the administration’s planned international arrivals area in West Hawaii will allow Kona to function as a reliever airport to ease congestion in Honolulu.

Investment in Kona airport infrastructure will allow our state to continue to grow as an international visitor destination during the busiest travel seasons.

Each of these state projects represents a smart, long-term investment in the welfare of our communities and the safety and well-being of our residents and visitors. We thank you for your consideration, and look forward to working with all of our distinguished legislators in the weeks ahead as we press forward together with these initiatives.

Mahalo for your support and your commitment to our communities.

Aloha,
Mayor William P. Kenoi

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