Biggest Loser

family-312018_640As the days grow longer and network programming goes into its summer schedule, it is once again time to determine who is the “Biggest Loser”.  While environmentalists made out like bandits, liberal Democrats rolled out a massive statewide plan to dispense marijuana to the hundred plus patients that cannot grow it for themselves.  Ethics amongst our elected officials has certainly hit an all-time low – so low that even the House Speaker Joe Souki is attempting to oust current Ethics Commission Chief Les Kondo who has done his best to hold the line against unscrupulous and corrupt legislators.

Instead, I am awarding the title of “Biggest Loser” at the 2015 Legislature to families.  Families in the state of Hawaii already face an uphill battle.  I invite you to judge for yourself – a complete record of all legislation passed by the 2015 Legislature can be found here.  Below are a few areas that legislators made no progress on:

Cost of Living: There were no measures passed by the 2015 Legislature that decreased the cost of living in the state.  The cost of food and the cost of gas dominate the day-to-day expenses of our families.  With the lack of any sort of tax relief for the middle class, the extension of the 0.5% rail surcharge tax (and the extension of it to the neighbor islands) stands out as only increasing the price of living in the islands.

Transportation: While on the topic, the rail tax was also the only transportation issue taken up by the Legislature.  Rather than proposing a solution, legislators took turns kicking the can around in a circle.  Legislators like Sylvia Luke proposed ideas that would have killed the beleaguered project rather than keep it afloat.  The issue was never addressed and only used to score political points that do not benefit any family.

Noticeably absent of any legislative or executive action was any sort of improvements after Zipper-geddon.  The 30+ hour traffic jam that disproportionately affected families appears forgotten in the minds of our elected officials.

Kupuna: Taking care of our kupuna is a time-honored, cultural tradition.  After all the sacrifices that they made to raise us, helping our kupuna through the late stages of their life is the least we can do.  However, the prices of health care in the islands are once again the highest in the nation.  Access to care homes and hospice facilities is (a) few and far between, and (b) prohibitively expensive when it is available.  Development in Kakaako is the perfect analog for elderly care in Hawaii — there are too few options that are affordable to island residents who have limited means.  Developers of elderly care facilities are designing new projects to tap the vast wealth of mainland transplants who look to spend their 401K’s to live out the final stages of their live in paradise.

Housing: The 2015 Legislature had no solutions to the burgeoning housing crisis in Hawaii.  Elected officials have simultaneously worked to curb both suburban development [1] as well as development in the urban core [2] while offering half-hearted explanations like “it’s already crowded in the urban core” or “we need to save our farmland”.  Their explanations on housing are not solutions, just “not here” and “not there”.  All the while, our homes become more and more crowded because our newest and youngest generations have nowhere to go, and our older generations are moving in.

It was impassioned testimony from this past legislative session that sums up the sorry state of families in Hawaii where one mother scolded a Senate committee:

“Raising a family is already difficult, why are you making it harder?”

Elected officials never heard her plea.  Between our kupuna our keiki, the lack of any significant action by elected officials demonstrates their indifference and deafness toward the needs of families in the islands.

The ugly truth is that it will be a long time before elected officials offer any sort of relief to families.  They count on the fact that our moms and dads, auntys and uncles, and even grandparents are too busy raising children to say much of anything.  Politics of the past five or ten years has become increasingly rancorous and our government spends its time and energy pandering to the loudest and the angriest. [3] Families will never get the relief they need because they are too busy to make noise.

[1] Note the resistance of elected officials to developments like Ho’opili and Koa Ridge.

[2] In 2014, the Legislature restructured the board of the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) to slow or halt development in Kakaako to appease the loudest and noisiest of voices in the community.

[3] For evidence, look no further than the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, the HSTA elections and budget cuts at UH-Manoa.