Our economic house is on fire. Passing a handful of budget measures supporting shovel-ready construction projects is not enough. Borrowing money from the federal government to avoid public worker layoffs and pay cuts, while critically important, is still not enough. There are far too many critical issues.
At the very top of the list are 230,000 newly unemployed workers struggling to pay their rent and feed their families. Most have spent many weeks without income and remain locked in a 24/7 seemingly futile effort to just submit an application for benefits they are entitled to.
The Legislature must step up now to provide immediate emergency financial support for those many families who through no fault of their own, remain entangled in this massive government fail.
Many of our recently unemployed friends and neighbors will also soon be losing their employer-mandated health insurance. Will the rush for MedQuest result in a similar administrative overload and subsequent breakdown?
Hard, tough, and thoughtful decisions surrounding our economic future must be made and they should not have to wait until the 2021 legislative session concludes next May, to be resolved.
Restarting and diversifying our economy needs immediate attention and the effort must start with a commitment to local agriculture and food self-sufficiency. Importing 90% of our food while exporting 100% of those dollars, is beyond ludicrous. The multiplier effect of those same dollars spent on local food, supporting local farmers is beyond significant. Add in the world market for high quality, organic and “Hawaii branded” agricultural products, and the economic potential goes through the roof.
Small farmers, small technology, small entrepreneurship and small business is where Hawaii should put its hopes, dreams and its dollars. To further kick-start and “seed” Hawaii’s economic diversification, the Legislature should consider a grant-in-aid program for local entrepreneurs focused on food-self sufficiency, import-substitution, recycling and natural resource protection.
Tourism remains a pillar of our economy, but its reopening must be managed with great care.
Anyone listening to the coconut wireless is clearly aware that the once-pent-up hostility among residents toward visitors, is no longer so pent-up. Increasingly, the anger and resentment have become more open and more ugly.
Allowing visitors to return prematurely without adequate health screening/testing and setting off a new round of COVID-19 infections, risks the explosion of an outright war between locals and tourists. This situation must not be treated lightly by the industry or by government. It is reality.
Many local residents are tired of the traffic and of the crowded beaches. They are tired of sharing the islands with “outsiders” and getting little in return. Unless they actually work in the industry, the average citizen sees no tangible benefit, only the inconvenience, and hassle.
Via changes in state and county laws, rules, permitting requirements, tax incentives, and tax/penalty disincentives, Hawaii’s visitor industry must be reshaped to the benefit of local residents.
For starters, hotels, resorts, airlines, and vacation rentals must pay every worker a living wage and health benefits; purchase their food from local farms and ranches; and educate their guests on cultural and local norms.
Visitor industry “carrying capacity” has exceeded its limits. New resort development must be frozen, and vacation rentals reduced. The transient accommodations tax must be increased with future automatic increases linked to rising visitor counts. Rental car taxes must also be significantly increased, decreasing traffic and supporting public transportation.
Commercial activity in public recreational areas should be banned on Sundays, and beach parks must set aside free parking for residents.
This moment in time represents a unique opportunity to reshape and revitalize our collective future. Our legislative leaders need to step up, or step aside.
First Published in the Honolulu StarAdvertiser on May 10, 2020
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