A Path Forward
A Resilient economy
Tourism may take years to fully recover. Even once the virus subsides, it will likely be years until visitor confidence reaches 2019 levels. Economic diversification is paramount in our recovery from the pandemic. Our state is in desperate need of an affirmative vision for our economy. We need leaders who can offer innovative ideas, creative thinking, and fresh perspectives. This pandemic has made it clear that the status quo is not enough. We need to identify and strengthen several pillars of our economy. Industries with great potential include film, cybersecurity, green technology, and agriculture.
As a local actor with credits on productions such as Hawaiʻi Five-0 and Midway, I have seen how each production employs workers in dozens of professions – from hairstylists and makeup artists to truck drivers and accountants. Through this industry, we can use our competitive advantages to create jobs and bring money into the state.
Cybersecurity is a growing field that has the potential to leverage our well-developed government and military industries to create high-paying jobs. I will help to create career pipelines in our K-12 schools, as well as in our universities, so that our talent pool is prepared to fill the jobs of tomorrow.
Green technology will facilitate progress toward our renewable energy goals, while attracting research and development investment. Just last year, the Irish government sent a $12 million wave energy device to Kaneohe Bay in order to utilize our unique testing environment. We should expand our research and development capabilities and search for more technologies like this to test and deploy.
Finally, a vibrant agriculture industry will enhance our food security and circulate money within our economy. We should source all state hospitals, schools, and correctional facilities with local products to create a steady baseline of revenue for farmers. We should also facilitate direct-to-consumer sales opportunities and promote value-added production.
Michael, answering questions from the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism.
Diversify our economy: Investing in industries like film, technology, renewable energy, and agriculture.
Fight for our workers: Provide paid sick leave and family leave for all workers, protect union rights, and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Support small businesses: Grant commercial rent relief for locally-owned businesses so they can keep their doors open.
Utilize progressive taxation: Replace taxes on groceries and medical supplies with an income tax increase on annual earnings over $300,000.
I strongly believe that we need to protect agricultural land and support small farmers. Our agriculture industry has a rich history and is especially important to the Waialua community. I attend the Waialua farmers' market regularly and appreciate speaking with small business owners. The State needs to provide better for small farmers and help them to reach larger buyers like schools and hospitals.
Our state can only feed itself for an estimated five to seven days. We depend on imported products for our basic needs. We need to protect our supply chains. Growing more of our own food will enrich the land and environment, provide quality ingredients for local businesses, and circulate money within our economy, rather than sending it overseas.
Local agriculture has vast economic potential. We should support farmers markets and other programs that connect our residents with our farmers. We should consider voucher programs and tax deductions for local food purchases. We should train our students in modern farming techniques so that we can provide jobs for them and produce food efficiently and competitively. As development continues, we will see more and more pressure on our agricultural land. We need leaders who will stand strong to ensure that agricultural land is used for its intended purpose.
Protect agricultural land and ensure that it is used for its intended purpose.
Source our schools and restaurants with local products.
Support farmers markets, produce delivery services, and other outlets.
Train our future farmers with a curriculum that includes modern farming techniques, business aptitude, and financial competency.
Supporting local farmers in Waialua every Saturday
Meeting with the owner of Manoa Honey and Mead to talk about supporting small businesses
Education spending is an investment in our future. Our leaders need to plan for our long-term success. If we treat our education system with the respect it deserves, the payoff will be a stronger economy and more vibrant society.
We should train our students in real-world skills such as financial literacy, business, and civic participation, while also creating career paths that connect students with the jobs we will need to fill in the future – from cyber careers to agriculture. We should train our own doctors, teachers, lawyers, and businesspeople instead of relying on imported talent. This way, as we start to reshape our economy and create high-paying jobs, we fill those jobs with our own students. We should offer career-specific education to all of our students by making our community colleges tuition-free for residents.
I grew up in Hawaii's public schools, and I know that we have a strong foundation of passionate teachers – educators who reach into their own wallets to pay for school supplies, forgo higher-paying jobs to teach, and spend countless late nights drafting lesson plans. Their impact on society is unparalleled. We need to pay them and support them accordingly. They should not have to choose between their love for teaching and their families' financial security. Raising teachers' salaries and improving our facilities will attract and reward top-notch educators.
Raise our teachers' salaries, reimburse their out-of-pocket expenses, and give them the freedom to teach to the student, not the test.
Make community colleges tuition-free and create career pipelines in fields with labor shortages, such as early education and nursing.
Provide a wholesome education that includes arts and humanities, STEM topics, career-specific training, and real-life skills.
Invest in counseling and mental health resources to help our students.
Cost of Living
The cost of living is the most important issue that we face, because it spawns so many other issues. High school graduates move to the mainland because they cannot afford high rents. Workers are unable to purchase homes because they spend their paychecks on bills and routine expenses, rather than depositing them into down payment savings accounts. Young people defer starting families because childcare costs are prohibitive.
We need to approach the cost of living from all angles. First, we should significantly increase our inventory of high-density, affordable housing, concentrating on development in the urban core. Next, we should eliminate regressive taxes that burden our working families. For example, we should eliminate our ‘grocery tax,’ which is the fifth-highest in the nation. We need to incentivize the creation of childcare facilities near workplaces and move toward universal preschool. We should expand the Hawaiʻi Promise Program, which currently covers community college tuition for residents with financial need. We need to reduce the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs.
Lowering the cost of living is a multi-pronged task, but each of these individual actions is achievable. If we help our residents to cover their basic expenses, we will foster a more vibrant economy. I want to see the day where our young people can stay in Hawaiʻi and imagine a bright future ahead of them. I want to see the day where homelessness is a rarity. I want to see the day where our people have enough money not only to survive, but to purchase homes, start businesses, and travel with their families. We can achieve this if we work together and put our people first.
Build affordable housing for Hawaii residents in the urban core.
Provide childcare assistance for our working families.
Modernize our electrical grid and support energy efficiency programs to reduce utility bills.
Establish a drug-reimportation program to end the price-fixing of the pharmaceutical industry.
Energy and Environment
My experience in energy economics has shown me the vast potential in front of us. For the past year, I have worked as an Economist for the State of Hawaii's Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The PUC regulates utility companies – those that provide necessary services such as electricity, wastewater, and shipping – to ensure that their actions serve the public interest. Another huge responsibility is facilitating the state's transition to 100% renewable energy. I have dealt with everything from electric vehicle infrastructure to solar farms, energy-efficient technologies, and time-of-use electricity rates. I have also served as a legislative coordinator for our office, which has given me hands-on experience informing our state's energy policy. I am ready to take on these complex issues and help us to seize the potential in front of us.
Our communities need influence in renewable energy decisions. An equitable transition means not only lowering bills, but also engaging with our residents to ensure that their interests are protected. In my time with the PUC, I have attended several public hearings, where we meet residents in their community centers, rather than in government buildings. This process adds a personal dimension to policy decisions, turning numbers on spreadsheets into rich stories. We need to actively communicate with our people to understand the real-life impacts of our actions and ensure that this energy transition benefits everyone. If we clearly articulate the concrete benefits of renewable energy investments and listen to the concerns of our residents, I believe that we can make progress.
If handled correctly, renewable energy can be a game-changer. Through smart policy, we can simultaneously lower electricity bills, reduce our environmental footprint, increase our self-sufficiency, create new, high-paying jobs, and bring money into the state. There are a lot of economic tools at our disposal to make sure that this transition brings equitable benefits for our residents and provides us with a resilient energy source.
In addition, we need to protect our coastal areas, beaches, and natural areas. At a time when many people need jobs, the State should invest in natural restoration to preserve the delicate ecosystems that make Hawaii such a special place.
Facilitate an equitable, community-oriented transition to renewable energy that benefits our residents.
Develop electric vehicle infrastructure and battery storage in order to leverage distributed energy resources (i.e. residential solar panels).
Cultivate renewable energy careers at our colleges to avoid importing talent.
Attract investment by piloting and researching new technologies.
Traffic is a serious impediment to our community. Nobody should have to sacrifice living in Mililani or Waialua with their family and friends in order to maintain their job. Reducing commuting times will make our community stronger. Providing easier access to downtown will broaden the 'job radius' for our residents, many of whom are currently constricted to employment within a few miles of our community. This will make our communities more livable, reduce stress levels, expand job opportunities, and give our workers more time with their families.
The State should continue allowing government employees to telework, and should encourage private sector employers to do the same. The pandemic has shown our capacity for remote work, which means less cars on the road and less traffic. We should also look for opportunities to make our road more efficient – that means re-working problematic intersections, merges, and bottlenecks, as well as building bypass roads. The eastbound zipper lane has worked remarkably well, and we should look to implement a similar mechanism in the westbound direction. At the same time, we should leverage public transportation by making fares reasonable, offering sufficient routes, and limiting the need for bus transfers.
Reducing traffic will give our people more time to spend with their families, while keeping more money in their pockets by reducing gas, parking, and vehicle repair expenses.
Implement a westbound zipper lane and a bypass road at Laniakea.
Expand teleworking and staggered work and school hours.
Enhance bus services and encourage the use of public transportation.
Use smart intersections and modern traffic monitoring to optimize the flow of vehicles.
Smart on Crime
We need to be smart on crime. That means using our resources as efficiently as possible in protecting our people. It costs our state $182 per day to keep an inmate in our jails. That adds up to $66,439 a year per inmate, which comes straight out of taxpayers' pockets. Yet the results do not line up with this hefty price tag. Our state exhibits a recidivism rate of about 50 percent, which means half of released inmates are arrested again within three years. In other words, the system is failing to deter future crime. In addition, our criminal justice system has disproportionately harmed Native Hawaiians in every phase, from arrests to sentencing decisions and conviction rates.
About half of the people in our jails have not been convicted. Pretrial defendants are those who were arrested on an officer's judgment and never had a chance to defend themselves, present evidence, or make their case to a jury. Many of them are incarcerated for months solely because they are unable to afford bail. Our cash bail system jails people based on an income threshold instead of a risk threshold. This compromises our safety. We should invest in our courts, so that we do not have so many people sitting in jail without a conviction, or pleading guilty without a trial.
We should use our funds to meaningfully protect our people. We spend millions of dollars a year flying inmates to a private prison in Arizona because our resources are stretched so thin. That money goes straight from Hawaii taxpayers to a mainland private prison corporation. Cutting out unnecessary financial waste inside our state will allow us to better handle our criminal population so we do not have to rely on external entities.
Politicians often compromise being smart on crime to seem tough on crime. However, this can inadvertently reduce public safety by straining resources and boosting recidivism. If we are smart, we will reduce violent crime. We will expand mental health and drug addiction services to treat homeless individuals. We will strengthen our re-entry programs to reduce recidivism and stop self-reinforcing incarceration cycles. We can keep our people safe while being smart in our use of taxpayer funds.
Invest in our courts to reduce wasteful expenditures in other phases of the criminal justice system.
Punish based on an individual's danger to society, not their income.
Expand mental health and drug rehabilitation services to treat individuals in need of help.
Use the Law Enforcement Standards Board to establish consistent protocol for law enforcement training and best practices.