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Ige decrees could carry policy risks

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    Colin Moore Director, University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center

Gov. David Ige this month likely will issue his sixth homeless-related emergency proclamation expediting projects across the state by setting aside normal bidding rules.

Collectively, the proclamations have streamlined the process of getting more financial help into the hands of needy homeless families to find — or stay in — long-term housing while speeding up construction of projects intended to reduce the state’s homeless population.

Signing another proclamation would address the concerns of impatient residents and tourists who are frustrated with the state’s high rate of homelessness. Ige, however, runs the risk of establishing a new standard in which union rights and procurement rules are no longer factors, according to Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science associate professor and director of UH’s Public Policy Center.

“I understand the administration’s position, and what they’re trying to do is laudable to work on this problem and put in place some solutions in an expeditious way,” Moore said. “But we should be clear that this is not what the governor’s emergency proclamation powers are designed to do, that … the only way to solve a problem in a reasonable amount of time is to pass an emergency proclamation. It is very troubling to me, and it should be to everyone, that our state government is simply incapable of handling these problems in any sort of reasonable time frame.”

The emergency proclamations allow Ige’s administration to waive union labor contracts. But Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said none of the 13 homeless-related projects that have benefited from the proclamations bypassed labor agreements.

Seven of the nine homeless projects that require construction are on Oahu.

Six of them are being developed through the city and county from Makiki to the Leeward Coast. The latest homeless construction project — converting a Kakaako maintenance shed into Oahu’s newest homeless shelter for families — is being done by the state and is scheduled to open in late September.

While highlighting the speed at which the projects are moving, Morishige said Ige’s administration “wants to look carefully” at extending the current, 60-day emergency proclamation “to make sure we utilize the emergency proclamation only when it’s necessary and only when it’s directly related to the issue of homelessness.”

Ige issued his first emergency homeless proclamation in October 2015.

Overall, Morishige said, the proclamations have allowed state and county officials “to be nimble and flexible.”

Since taking office in 2014, Ige and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui have signed 10 emergency proclamations, and half have been aimed at natural disasters: the Puna lava flow (signed March 2015); Tropical Depression C3, which became Hurricane Kilo (August 2015); disaster relief for Hurricane Ignacio (August 2015); mosquito-borne illnesses (February); and Tropical Storm Darby (July).

Moore has no issue with emergency proclamations that address unanticipated emergencies.

They should be issued sparingly “to deal with true emergencies that are caused by natural disasters, not complex social problems like homelessness,” Moore said.

Homelessness is hardly new in the islands, and Moore worries that responding by issuing emergency proclamations will become “the new normal.”

He also worries that Ige’s successor will look back at his use of emergency proclamations, “and they will become a standard tool. The justification will be that Ige set the precedent. That’s very likely to happen.”

In the meantime Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration has said that several homeless-related projects helped by Ige’s proclamations will open years ahead of the usual schedule.

They include recently announced projects that did not have to undergo the months-long process of putting construction projects out to bid, where they are then scrutinized through a selection process before the work can begin.

Instead, Caldwell has been announcing a series of city-related construction projects that have been helped by the proclamations. They include concepts that have never been tried in the islands, such as a four-story warehouse in Iwilei that the city bought and plans to use to shower, assist and house the homeless through the largest so-called “navigation center” of its kind in the islands.

Moore sees how the proclamations are helping homeless-related ideas become reality faster than normal across Oahu.

But he worries that practices ushered in during a time of a declared “emergency” could chip away at long-standing policies designed to bring openness to government.

“There’s a reason we have these rules in place, because they were created to solve problems of having fair bids and favoritism,” Moore said. “By trying to get around the difficulties of bids and procurement, we might be creating another problem and setting a dangerous precedent.”

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  • There is an emergency! Look at all the people living along Nimitz Highway, all the parks, and in bushes on State land. We need to get shelters built that is not in our parks and roads. It is no different when there is a natural disaster, and people lose their homes.

    • The obvious solution is to raise taxes on State residents, so that the State can build unlimited numbers of free housing for anyone on the planet who wants to live in Hawaii for free. And let’s throw in unlimited free health care and welfare for those people too. Problem solved!

      • Or…EVERYONE stop paying their taxes, rents and mortgages, get booted out of their homes, become homeless and then the state would be forced to let you live in your old home again to alleviate the 100% homeless problem!

    • Yes, it is an emergency. Unfortunately, depending on your perspective, this is just another example of the bureaucratic logjam that our government is in and/or the inept actions of a well intended governor who will put this State into another situation that will end up in court and cost taxpayers $M’s.

    • Of course. Everyone needs the “right to work” for 3.75/hr with no health care, family leave, and workplace safety regulations. (after all, good working conditions are expensive) It’s the same kind of euphemistic obfuscation as being “Pro-Life” right up until the time that the baby is born. Then the “lifers” become pro-death; seeking to deny adequate nutrition for mothers and children, denying educational opportunity, and of course, clamoring for the death penalty;.

  • People like Moore are the reason nothing gets done in Hawaii, or that it takes forever to do common sense things. I’m no fan of Ige, but he did the right thing by moving expeditiously to address homeless issues.

    • Not true, Moore knows as most people do that the politicians running this state are highly corrupt and will use the declaration to direct taxpayer resources to their “preferred vendors” which are really campaign contributors.
      Pay to Play is as true today as ever, that’s what you get when the same party controls everything for 50 years. Voters are getting exactly what they deserve, keep electing the same corrupt, long serving politicians and expect a different result. It’s only getting worse and has been since the 80’s.

  • Thoughtful and wise commnentary that exposes the dangers of not only the abuse of emergency proclamations, but law by Executive fiat as well. We have three equal branches of government for a reason, and soft tyranny is still tyranny.

  • “There’s a reason we have these rules in place, because they were created to solve problems of having fair bids and favoritism,” Moore said. “By trying to get around the difficulties of bids and procurement, we might be creating another problem and setting a dangerous precedent.” And yet you complain about how long it would take government to do this without the proclamations that bypass these rules in order to expedite assistance to the most needy.

    You just want to have your cake and eat it too. Not very savvy analysis Dr. Moore.

  • The real problem, which Moore does state at one point, it the State’s complete inability to get anything done correctly in an efficient and expedited manner. We do have a real problem when the only way to deal effectively with pressing issues is through emergency proclamations. The unions don’t need more protection. They need less. They are a huge part of the problem of effectively governing Hawaii.

    • agree…We have to be careful with using the emergency declarations too much but I agree with IGE that the flood of homeless did present-and does still present-a public health and safety emergency.

      • I’m not sure Allie, if I really have a horse in this race but I have observed that many people have faulted Gov. Ige for a lack of decisive leadership. His actions as described, seem to convey a sense of the realization that desperate times require desperate measures.

        I’m reminded on a much smaller scale of FDR facing several of the worst crises in our nation’s history and using all the tools he had available to address the problems at hand. Several of his solutions were subsequently struck down but minor reverses did not stop him from taking action.

        All things considered, I think I’d rather see elected officials try to address our society’s problems rather than sit quietly by.

        • You can always count on the Politicians to “act” when it involves spending unbudgeted taxpayer money. Throw in the possibility that they can award contracts without competitive bidding and it’s almost a certainty they will “act”.
          But give Ige a problem like the TMT controversy to deal with and he fails miserably. Why? because there was no extra taxpayer money to direct to donors. Ige better hope another democrat doesn’t challenge him in 2018, he’ll be following Abs into retirement.

  • Why don’t we instead build state-owned care centers for our elderly who cannot care for themselves yet cannot afford the $6,000 – $12,000 per month fees to get the care their need? You know – people who actually paid taxes during their lives and were productive citizens contributing to society?

  • Memo to Colin: Government inaction? On sheltering our own community. News flash – it didn’t just start this century. Think about it – this problem started with the Japanese Bubble in 1980. Gotten worse. Now it’s really bad. And you’re troubled. How about being outraged. Angry. Disgusted. Driven nuts. Take a look at TMT, and link the emotions there with our housing crisis here. Get out of the UH ivory tower and go live in the naupaka, then tell me this ain;t no emergancy

  • Seriously, Center for Public Policy? Maybe the Center for the Lack thereof. How about studying public suffering, legislative inaction, voter apathy and politician incumbancy.

  • nonsense. the homeless situation is at a crisis situation, need to do something now or it will get worse. cannot wait for the normal procurement procedures, takes too long. the gov knows what he is doing, don’t need unsolicited advice from people who don’t know what the issues are.

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