If U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is elected governor, she intends to sue the federal government to demand more support for Pacific Islanders who immigrate to Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association, she said Monday.
Hanabusa made her comments during a forum with Gov. David Ige at the Prince Waikiki hotel in which Ige recited his accomplishments in developing new housing stock and cooling public school classrooms, and questioned Hanabusa’s position on the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Ige said he supports a $15 state minimum wage and that he plans to vote in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to establish a surcharge on investment properties to support public schools. Currently the state Constitution gives counties the exclusive power over property taxes.
Hanabusa said she has “always been in support of the minimum wage. I’ve actually supported the living wage throughout my career in the state Legislature … and the reason is, when you grow up on the Waianae Coast, the one thing you do know is that unless people have the ability to equalize and earn a decent living wage, they are never going to be able to make it.”
Hanabusa also said she supports the proposed constitutional amendment to fund education, and described it as an opportunity for Hawaii residents to demonstrate their commitment to public education.
Hanabusa is challenging Ige in the Democratic primary election for governor. The forum was sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, Waikiki Improvement Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii and Waikiki Neighborhood Board.
Ige said his administration completed 5,300 new housing units since he became governor, and said his administration is committed to making state land available for housing. Hanabusa said state government should consider developing housing for its own employees to relieve some of the pressure on the housing market.
On environmental issues, Ige questioned why Hanabusa opposed the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument by former President Barack Obama in his final months in office.
Hanabusa said she was one of a number of Hawaii political figures who questioned the expansion of the monument, including former Govs. George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano and the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
She said critics believed that “it took away from the people who should be making the decisions, people like, for example, the governors, to determine whether or not this was necessary and how you would do it, and how you would actually manage the space.”
Ige countered that the expansion of the monument actually gives the state more input into “the protection of this valuable and important resource.”
When Hanabusa had a chance to question Ige, she asked him what he has done as governor to create jobs that would give hope to young people from Hawaii that they will be able to return home to good careers.
Ige replied that he is proud of his support for development of digital media in Hawaii, including plans to begin construction next year on an Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu campus. “I do believe we have the best digital media program in the world,” he said.
Hanabusa said she thinks the state should have taken the lead in creating “training hotels” to train students for management positions and keep them in tune with ways the industry is growing and changing.
When the discussion turned to immigration, Hanabusa focused on the cost of providing medical care to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau who come to Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association (COFA). The compacts are a series of treaties designed to compensate Pacific islanders for the harm done by nuclear tests in the Pacific.
It is the federal government’s obligation to provide homes, education and medical care to COFA migrants, she said, but Hawaii bears much of the cost.
“I’ve always felt that — and waited to see whether any governor would do it — is whether or not a governor had the intestinal fortitude to take on the federal government and to sue them for the COFA fair share,” said Hanabusa, who is a lawyer. “The only way we’re going to get the attention of the federal government is that the state will have to sue them.”
Ige agreed that COFA migrants “certainly do put a significant impact on the infrastructure in Hawaii. … Because of who we are and what we stand for, we do welcome the migrants into our communities.”
Providing education and health care to those migrants costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars, “so certainly we advocate and work with our congressional delegation to pursue reimbursement of those costs.” He said the state will also continue to work with agencies that support the migrants through education and job training.
Hanabusa was also questioned by forum panelist Allison Schaefers of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about Hanabusa’s successful efforts in 2002 and 2003 to convince lawmakers to pass a $75 million tax credit for development of an aquarium at Ko Olina for developer Jeff Stone.
The Honolulu Advertiser reported that less than a month after the $75 million tax credit was approved, Stone sold a luxury Ko Olina townhouse to Hanabusa’s then-fiance, John F. Souza III. One of Stone’s companies financed the sale by lending Souza $405,773 for the purchase, according to state records. Hanabusa and Souza later married.
Ige has called Hanabusa’s effort to secure that tax credit for Stone as evidence that she makes decisions “on behalf of self-interest and special interests.”
But Hanabusa said the tax credit is widely misunderstood. People incorrectly believe Stone received the $75 million when in fact the Ko Olina aquarium was never built and Stone claimed only $3.45 million of the $75 million tax credit. She said there “has never been any wrongdoing found” in connection with the tax credit.
She added that the credit “showed a commitment — during 9/11, now — to a part of this island. My part, that people have ignored,” Hanabusa said, referring to the Leeward Coast areas she represented in the Senate. “The tax credit wasn’t used, but the statement was to the rest of the world, yes, we’re committed to tourism, we’re committed to development of this location.”