Hawaii can stimulate its economy and generate jobs without raising taxes, the state’s gubernatorial candidates said in a forum Tuesday.
The debate hosted by the West Oahu Economic Development Association marked the first time that the four candidates met since the primary election earlier this month. Democratic state Sen. David Ige pulled out of a forum last week after disagreeing with organizers about the ground rules of the event.
Ige stressed the need for economic diversification and said he’s been a proponent of tax credits for technology companies.
“I was part of the biggest private equity investment in the history of the state of Hawaii and I do know how venture capitalists and investment bankers work in developing businesses,” he said.
To support jobs created by tourism, Ige said he supports establishing an international terminal at Kona airport and developing more hotel rooms.
Former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, a Republican, said he would push policies that address regulations and road blocks that hinder businesses growth.
“What the government needs to do is get out of the way of businesses and let them do what they do, which is to create jobs,” Aiona said.
Aiona suggested that the state conduct an annual report on credits and deductions to determine what’s effective. He also suggested lowering the unemployment taxes paid by small businesses.
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, who is running as an Independent Party candidate, suggested convening a council of leaders among the state’s four mayors and the governor. He wants to find ways to reduce electricity costs and streamline the permitting process.
“It’s not enough to say ‘government, get out of the way.’ You have to address specific concerns that businesses have had for years,” Hannemann said.
Hannemann also wanted to create more synergy between tourism and other industries, incorporating education to create opportunities for “cultural tourism” and “heritage tourism.”
Libertarian candidate Jeff Davis stressed the need for audits of government spending, but he didn’t directly tie the idea to job creation.
Asked whether the development of commuter rail puts Oahu at the risk of overdevelopment, Ige suggested hiring a transit-oriented development planner to develop a comprehensive plan.
Aiona said it all comes down to balance and stressed the importance of creating affordable housing.
Hannemann said decisions about development in Kakaako, the site of many new construction projects, should be made at the city level instead of the state level, and that decisions about development should be made in communities.