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Legislative Update

Our 4th Senatorial District is geographically the largest Senate District in the state with four different climates and the largest contiguous agricultural lands. Today, we have many small but highly productive farms and ranches. Taken together, the current and potential productivity of our agriculture lands and the community’s interest in agriculture commands a great deal of my time and attention.

However, even more important to the residents of Sen. District 4 is the high cost of energy, and public recreational facilities, services and lifestyle choices.

The current cost of electricity on Hawaii Island has virtually every man, woman and child held captive. As Parker Ranch CEO “Dutch” Kuyper described it at last week’s Waimea Town Meeting, we are all rather like prisoners in Halawa Jail, and even those who are able to install solar are rather like Halawa inmates trying to dig their way out of captivity with a teaspoon.

We have to change the way we do business when it comes to electricity, both for cost and environmental reasons. I am very interested in what Parker Ranch is exploring in terms of taking full advantage of wind, solar and pumped hydro, etc. to serve the needs of the nearby communities at lower cost than HELCO chooses to pursue.

It’s a long term solution but one that we as a community must get involved in. This kind of change isn’t going to come easy. We also want to be sure that the new energy solution is truly a “community benefit” – not just swapping out one monopoly for another.

On the nearer horizon, I am working very closely with the Senate Ways And Means Committee as well as our District’s State House of Representatives members – Cindy Evans, Mark Nakashima and Nicole Lowen – to secure the Capitol Improvement funds our district needs and deserves.

I put emphasis on the word deserves. Our Senatorial District pays well over 60 percent of the General Excise Taxes and Transient Accommodation Taxes and county property taxes for the entire island. You, the residents here, deserve a fair share of these taxes back.

I was very pleased to bring home about $280 million last session and hope to match that again this session. Our district hasn’t had this kind of return on the taxes it generates for nearly two decades and it shows. Our infrastructure – parks, schools, hospitals, harbors are in a sad state of repair. So this new money will ensure safer and better schools and hospitals as well as improved roads, parks, airports and harbors.

But I’m pushing hard for even more funding to come back to our district. For example, our lifeguards at state parks such as Hapuna struggle to provide adequate safety services – they are short staffed and don’t have the necessary equipment.

Part of their struggle is the volume of beach users at Hapuna, and the ones who get in trouble and need rescuing are mostly visitors. The same goes for state parks personnel who spend hundreds of hours every year and many thousands of dollars rescuing stranded hikers – again, most of whom are visitors.

I believe visitors must pay their fair share, and that’s exactly why the Transient Accommodations Tax was established. Now I am working to secure a share of the TAT to offset the cost of life safety services and other improvements to our state parks.

The current legislative session will come to a close in just about three weeks and virtually all funding decisions are still up in the air. I welcome your input and also urge you to speak up and convey your support for projects that are important to you. Also, my door is always open – and I’m phone and email accessible if you have suggestions or concerns.