The speaker at the Hawaii Tourism Wholesalers Association (HTWA) meeting held on October 9, 2019, was Dr. Keli’i Akina, President and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and an elected at-large Trustee at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Dr. Akina touched on several timely subjects including his personal thoughts about the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) being built on Maunakea on the Big Island in Hawaii. His personal opinion is that the building of the telescope on Maunakea would be very beneficial for the State of Hawaii and its people, however, he also understands the spiritual aspect as shared by many Hawaiians.
His original reason to run for his OHA Trustee seat was to bring more light and transparency to OHA. He is largely responsible for seeing the initiation of the audits of OHA LLC, which is yet to be completed. He noted that a majority of the current OHA board and leadership have fought the audits at every turn. However, the 2019 State Legislature has withheld OHA’s share of the ceded land revenue until the audits are completed and examined.
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Dr. Akina said that while Hawaii is the best place to live on the planet for many reasons, it is well known that there is a high financial price to pay for living in paradise. Here, food and housing costs are some of the highest in the nation.
The current lack of affordable housing is not a shortage of suitable land but is due to politics and zoning. Building permits can take months even years to be processed. The red tape for permits as well as other governmental dealings is a much-berated part of running a business in the Aloha State.
Back in the 1920s, Hawaii enacted the Jones Act. This Act places an unnecessary financial burden on Hawaii and its people, and this law needs to be updated. The Jones Act specifies that ships carrying cargo between two American ports must be built in the United States, be 75 percent owned by US citizens, be 75 percent manned by a US citizen crew, and fly the US flag. So for example, a Taiwanese ship that left Taipei for Los Angeles cannot on its return trip drop off cargo in Hawaii.
Economists say prices for a wide variety of consumer goods could be reduced by as much as 30% in the islands if the law were repealed. Many American ranchers buy grain from Canada or Argentina rather than from US farmers because of this Act, and Hawaii ranchers transport cattle to Canada, rather than waiting for a Jones Act ship to take them to California.
Due to the restrictions placed upon the state by the Jones Act, Hawaii merchants cannot hope to compete in the world marketplace. Currently, the fleet of US vessels that comply with the Jones Act restrictions has dwindled from 2,300 in 1946 to less than 100 today. Many of those ships are old and among the most expensive in the world to maintain.
Dr. Akina has been dialoging with US Representative Ed Case about amending the Jones Act, and Rep. Case is currently researching a reform bill to be introduced in Congress.
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii also presented some startling information about Hawaii’s underfunded debt liabilities:
“In a new report from the Hawaii CHANGE Initiative, titled Troubled Waters: Charting a New Fiscal Course for Hawaii, numerous experts examined the investments and expenses of the state and county governments for the next 30 years and estimated we are looking at a staggering amount totaling more than $88 billion.
“That figure includes $3.2 billion for affordable housing, $5.7 billion toward county water and wastewater, $5.5 billion for transportation infrastructure, a relatively conservative $9.2 billion for the Honolulu rail, $12.6 billion toward public education, $1 billion for public safety, $8.9 billion for public facilities, and $15.3 billion for natural disasters and climate change. And lest we forget, $25.7 billion for public employee pension and health benefits. In an introductory message to the report, Chair Colbert Matsumoto wrote, ‘Our findings led to the conclusion that the extent of future costs that state and local governments are required to meet will strain their capacity beyond any prior experience.’”