Kim to seek half-billion-dollar lava aid package
Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim is asking for a huge relief package totaling $500 million to $600 million to help his island recover from the months-long Kilauea Volcano eruption, but state lawmakers say they’ve been unable to learn so far how such a package would be financed or how the money would be used.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim is asking for a huge relief package totaling $500 million to $600 million to help his island recover from the months-long Kilauea Volcano eruption, but state lawmakers say they’ve been unable to learn so far how such a package would be financed, or how the money would be used.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said Kim made the request to Gov. David Ige last weekend. County Managing Director Wil Okabe on Tuesday evening confirmed for Saiki the amount of money that is being requested, but was unable to provide any other details about the request, Saiki said.
“I have nothing,” Saiki said. “I have no idea what has been drafted, I have no idea whether the governor has agreed to anything.”
“I expect that the Legislature will be assisting Hawaii County, but at the same time, the Legislature will not sign a blank check,” he said.
Ige said in an interview Wednesday that he met briefly with Kim “about next steps for Hawaii island. We did not talk specifically about any specific amounts.” County officials asked about a special session, and Ige said he told them it is premature to discuss that until a specific plan has been developed.
Okabe said in an interview the money would be a combination of state, federal and county funds, but said other details are still being worked out.
“We just were giving courtesy information,” Okabe said. “We’re at the draft stage, and we’re just giving the information to the leadership within the House and the Senate” and to the Hawaii County Council. He described the effort as “a draft in the making.”
Saiki said he asked Okabe to provide whatever details about the relief package that were provided to Ige, but hadn’t heard back yet on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, Hawaii County has mismanaged this request because the Legislature, if we go into special session, will have to appropriate funds for disaster relief, and no one at the Legislature, including the Big Island legislators, are aware of what Hawaii County’s request entails,” Saiki said.
Among other things, lawmakers want to know whether the county request takes into account Federal Emergency Management Agency grants or reimbursements, or funds that might be obtained from nonprofits, Saiki said.
Saiki said Ige should convene a meeting of the Hawaii congressional delegation, state lawmakers and county leaders to hash out the specifics of the proposal.
“Hawaii County needs to manage this request responsibly,” he said. “Otherwise, if it fails, all it will do is hurt Hawaii island residents.”
Okabe noted that lawmakers appropriated
$125 million in cash last spring to help Kauai and Oahu recover from severe flooding in April. “I think the bottom line is that we need help,” he said. “We understand perfectly that it is the Legislature that’s going to be reviewing this.”
House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said the timing of Kim’s request “reeks of politics” because it comes so close to the primary election on Saturday.
“For them to be discussing this type of amount at this stage, which is a few days before the primary, it brings up different suspicions about what kind of promises were made, and so it just has a bad taste of politicking and using taxpayers’ funds,” she said.
“If in the end they come out with a $600 million package without details, this would be the most expensive endorsement on the backs of the taxpayers,” Luke said.
Kim endorsed Ige for re-election during this year’s hard-fought primary, citing the help that Ige provided to Hawaii County during the eruption that began May 3. The Ige campaign has been airing advertisements featuring Kim, who is popular on his home island.
Okabe said Luke’s comments were “inappropriate.”
“This is not about political endorsements,” Okabe said, noting that Luke endorsed Ige’s primary election opponent, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. “This is not about politics. This is about helping people in need, so if she goes there, I think that’s inappropriate.”
Ige said he has not agreed to any aid package, and did not even discuss the dollar amount of aid that might be involved. He said he was given a draft resolution, but has not yet reviewed it and is unsure if it asked for a specific amount.
As for Luke’s suggestion that the aid package was tied to Kim’s political support, “there never was any intent” to tie any of the
Hawaii island eruption
activities to an endorsement, Ige said.
Lawmakers will take a close look at any aid package that is proposed, said Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu). “We’re going to do our own due diligence regardless of what the mayor and governor agree to at this point,” she said.