The Legislature has neglected to provide even miniscule funding to maintain state parks and harbors in need of improvement. Deterioration has worsened over the past two decades, and the Lingle administration in its final week produced a comprehensive remedy that Gov. Neil Abercrombie should act on without delay to fix recreational facilities.
In August, candidate Abercrombie told Rotarians on the Big Island that he had a plan to take the entire $70 million that the Hawaii Tourism Authority receives yearly from transient accommodations — hotel room tax revenues — and use it to improve parks and other facilities, according to West Hawaii Today.
"I could put that together in 30 days and get people working," he said, a rapid action if legislative approval is needed.
Such a transfer would benefit the tourism industry, he pointed out.
Indeed, Hawaii’s natural beauty and pristine assets must continue to shine in order for tourism to thrive. Of course, enjoyment of the state’s environmental treasures and safe access to them for local residents are of paramount importance as well.
Whether the hotel room tax is the source of funding, Abercrombie seems to recognize the desperate need described in the adieu by Laura H. Thielen, Lingle’s director of land and natural resources, as she handed the baton to William Aila Jr., her successor in the new administration.
The new report estimates the cost of back-log repairs and replacements at $240 million, spanning five years. It suggests $50 million in yearly expenditures made from a combination of general tax revenue and fees from commercial and industrial leases of state land. Upon completion, continued maintenance would be financed solely by tax dollars.
This past Legislature rejected Thielen’s request for $40 million in bonds aimed at creating a "renaissance" for state parks, harbors, trails and forest access.
The new report points out that Hawaii deserves equally "glorious parks with family-friendly cabins, trails, campgrounds and vibrant harbors that serve residents and a number of small businesses" found in other states.
Instead, basic maintenance and repairs have been denied park cabins and harbors that were built in early statehood, leading to costly maintenance.
An exception is small boat harbors, where nearly one-third of the 2,000 slips have been replaced in the past five years, paid for through special fees.
A revamping of parks and harbors is desperately needed to avoid having to rebuild structures that if ignored will become too dilapidated to repair. Abercrombie must make that case to legislators who were reluctant to act on the Lingle administration’s recommendations.