Name on ballot:
Calvin K.Y. Say
Honolulu city council – District 5
Legislator, Hawaii House of Representatives & President, Kotake Shokai, Ltd.
Previous job history:
Legislator, Hawaii House of Representatives, 44 years; Kotake Shokai, Ltd.; Flamingo Chuck Wagon
Previous elected office, if any:
Legislator, Hawaii House of Representatives, District 20 (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, and Kaimuki); 44 years
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Oahu.
Over the past 44 years, I have had the privilege of serving the citizens of St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, and Kaimuki at the Hawaii State House of Representatives. Among the many positions I held there included Chair of the Finance Committee and the Speaker of the House.
I was the first person of Chinese ancestry to have been chosen as a chamber Speaker in the United States.
I also served the longest as Speaker of the House in the history of the State of Hawaii.
I am also a small business person. I currently serve as the President of Kotake Shokai, Ltd., a family-owned import-export business.
I am a part of the community. I serve as a member of the Palolo Community Council, the United Chinese Society, and the Pacific Rim Foundation.
And finally, I am a husband to a loving wife (Cora), and a father to two sons (Geoffrey and Jared).
What is the most pressing need for the people you seek to represent, and what can you do to address that need?
The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in scope and scale. In March, the Council on Revenues (COR) expected the State to experience a general fund surplus of nearly $300 million for this fiscal year. Within a month after COVID hit, the surplus of $300 million was downgraded to a deficit of nearly $500 million. The most recent COR report anticipates a shortfall of over $2 billion in State general funds over the next two years. For the City and County of Honolulu, I would expect the situation would be even worse since property values will likely decline during this period, especially with the virtual stoppage of our economic base.
Our State and counties are in triage mode right now and will be in it for at least two years (or so say the economists). With limited revenues, federal, State, and county governments will need to do all that they can to survive by ensuring that the most vital services for the health and welfare of our citizenry are provided. Because of this, my first and most important goal if elected will be Honolulu’s ECONOMIC SURVIVAL.
We will need to hit the reset button on county operations and address the issue of “recovery.” Oahu is the engine that generates revenue for State and county operations. We must stimulate and diversify our economy if we hope to achieve a “new” normalcy in the near future.
My 44 years of experience at the Hawaii House of Representatives, where I served as Chair of the Finance Committee and as Speaker of the House during the Great Recession ten years ago, provides me with a unique perspective to help guide the City and County of Honolulu during this crisis.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more should county government do to protect residents’ health?
During times of meager revenue collections, it will be vital for the City to continue its provision of essential services for the health and welfare of our People. This includes police, fire, waste collection, water, sewers, and transportation. However, with fewer resources at hand, lawmakers will need to rely on experience, creativity, and perseverance to keep these essential services running.
In order to objectively and rationally determine how to pare down the budget, it will be important that the Council understands what services are “essential”, or those that they are required by the Hawaii State Constitution, State law, or the City Charter, and those that are “non-essential”, or all other services that were established by City Ordinance. To my knowledge, such an analysis has not been performed for the State nor the County levels in over a decade. Failure to provide for certain “essential” services would place our citizens at risk as well as impact the City’s ability to receive federal or State funds and hurt the City’s bond rating. This information will be extremely helpful for lawmakers when they need to make the hard decisions that preserve essential services.
What should county government do to help residents who have been economically affected by the pandemic?
Over a three-week period in March, the State of Hawaii went from having the lowest unemployment in the country to the highest. Over 250,000 of our citizens were laid off. Without income, citizens have had to rely on federal stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, and savings to survive. Also, the Governor issued an Emergency Proclamation that established a temporary moratorium on residential evictions for many mortgagees and most renters.
With federal unemployment insurance supplements expected to run out in August, and as pressures build on landlords who do not receive rents from tenants, many experts believe there will be what they term “a tsunami” of homelessness in our communities in the near future. Such an occurrence would pose the greatest threat to our health, safety, and wellbeing in our lifetime.
The City will need to work with the federal government and the State to shelter, feed, and care for our family members, friends, and neighbors who find themselves in this situation at no fault of their own. With the new realities of COVID-19, our survival depends on their survival because if they get sick, the chances that you and I will also get sick increase exponentially.
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the county deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
The unpleasant fact is that public worker furloughs, pay cuts, and downsizing will not be a choice for lawmakers but a necessity. In 2019, Hawaii broke all records by welcoming 10 million visitors to our State. In 2020, only a little more than 3 million will come here. The last time Hawaii had 3 million visitors was in the 1970s.
Tourism drives our economy. More than one-third of all General Excise Tax collections come from visitors, and the City relies on Transient Accommodations Tax revenues for its operations.
Using the State as an example, the size of government is based on the amount of revenues it collects. In 2019, General Funds collections were a little more than $8 billion per year. Today, we are collecting about half that or at a rate of around $4 billion per year. Cuts to government services have not been made yet as we operate at 2019 levels using moneys from the federal CARES Act, and savings to offset the shortfall . However, those moneys will run out and when they do, hard choices will need to be made.
The situation is even worse for the counties because the counties have fewer options and revenue sources to rely on. And as government services are eliminated, property values will diminish and the counties’ primary revenue source will decline.
When these cuts are made, lawmakers must look for ways to mitigate its toll on public workers, families, and communities — whether it be through progressive furloughs or salary reductions in lieu of widespread layoffs. These workers are vital to the stability of local businesses and enterprises who rely on them as customers.
What specific solutions do you propose to combat homelessness?
Our first duty will be to provide assistance to those who are unemployed to ensure that they continue to make their rent or mortgage payments and put food on their tables. We also need businesses to continue to retain their employees and provide essential goods and services safely to the general public. It will be catastrophic if the 250,000 persons or more recently unemployed become homeless. Our social safety net would quickly be overwhelmed and many of our citizens would suffer enormously. We cannot let that happen.
For the next two years, both the State and the City will need to find temporary solutions to the immediate needs of the homeless. Until we gain a better understanding of what the “new normal” will look like, we must stand ready and committed to supporting our citizens who find themselves without a job, or without a home because of COVID-19. And we will need to do this without adequate funds. This will require elected officials to roll up their sleeves, become more creative, and be willing to challenge our pre-COVID notions of models because they don’t apply anymore.
With that in mind, building on the concept of “compassionate disruption”, we need to continue efforts to provide the homeless with the necessary support services and skills to permanently obtain housing. Also, by focusing on the establishment of mobile, temporary facilities, the City will be better able to meet demands within communities across the island.
Regarding affordable housing, we need to ensure that there is sufficient water and sewage infrastructure to meet the growing demands in Kakaako and urban Honolulu. Our ability to create more affordable housing “vertically” will depend on this infrastructure.
Do you support or oppose stopping construction of the rail project at Middle Street? Please explain.
Our State and the counties are in triage mode right now and will be in it for at least two years (or so say the economists). With limited revenues, federal, State, and county governments will need to do all that they can to survive by ensuring that the most vital services for the health and welfare of our citizenry are provided.
Regardless of personal views, it is a fact that the rail project has driven our construction industry for the past decade. With the decline of tourism in the midst of the COVID crisis, workers, their families, and entire communities rely on the jobs the rail project provides. We need to look at the impact stoppage of the project at Middle Street would have on the construction industry in light of our tourism downturn and determine whether it would result in even more of our citizens being out of work. That scenario would be even more difficult for the State and city to address.
Do you support or oppose using new city funds to cover any shortfall in HART’s construction or operating costs? Please explain.
As stated earlier, the primary focus over the next two years will be on the City’s economic survival. If elected, I would need to take a very hard look at all existing services to determine what is essential, and what is not, and then make the best decision that I can to meet as many of the people’s needs as possible.
Government cannot and should not be all things to all people all of the time. But it can strive to do the best it can to met as many of the People’s needs as much as possible.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Recent events on the mainland have brought to the forefront the brutal treatment of minorities by law enforcement in the United States. These instances demonstrate how rooted racism is in our institutions and the fabric of our nation.
Be that as it may, Hawaii is also one of the most (if not the most) racially-diverse communities in the world, and our culture is founded on acceptance and mutual understanding. This has done much to insulate our islands from many of the abuses that have occurred on the mainland.
Is there racism in Hawaii? Of course. All you would need to do is compare the number of native Hawaiians in prison, income levels, propensity for diabetes and other chronic diseases, and other benchmarks with African-Americans, and you be the judge for yourself.
Are there abuses? Of course. But I also believe much improvements have been made under the Chief Ballard’s watch and she has tried to improve transparency compared to the previous Chief.
More can be done by having the Police Department work with communities to improve communication and trust. When communities see the Police as friends and not enemies, we will have gone a long way — much farther than by passing laws that create more bureaucracy and promote suspicion for the loyal men and women in blue.
With that said, the current oversight process could be enhanced by having the Police Commission actively engage community groups and the general public. Such steps would not necessarily require legislative enactment, but political will and the desire of the Commission to gain the pulse of the streets.
What can county government do to mitigate the affects of sea-level rise on Oahu?
In many ways, Hawaii has been at the forefront in addressing climate change. We can continue to follow the recommendations of experts on sustainability. And we can use planning and zoning to better manage the uses of shoreline areas. But given the economic crisis we are in, it will be difficult to establish new programs or expand existing ones when the priority will be on retaining essential services linked to health, welfare, and safety.
I just wish we could have more resources to work with on this issue.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
When I first entered public service in 1976, I was still a student at the University of Hawaii and worked part-time as a busboy at Flamingo Chuckwagon on Kapiolani Boulevard. I was young (in fact, at the time, the youngest ever elected in the State), optimistic, and eager to use what I learned to make Hawaii a better place.
Times were changing, and with change came many challenges. People feared the future and wondered whether things would ever go back to how they were. But for every crisis, we as a people have always met these challenges head-on by working together and caring for one another. This resilience is the strength of our People. This is ALOHA.
The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented. In my 44 years of public service, I have never seen disruption to daily life on the scale that we are seeing today. People are afraid of getting sick, and aren’t sure whether we will be able to put food on the table and have a place to live.
But like we had with every previous crisis, we will meet these challenges head-on by working together and caring for one another.
Government services will also need to change. With limited resources, emphasis on health and human services will shift resources to these areas. And with each shift, the lives of workers and their families will be disrupted, but change will be necessary to meet the new demands of the post-COVID world.
These times are difficult, but we have always met these challenges head-on by working together and caring for one another. This is our strength as a People. This is ALOHA.
I have faith in our People. We will survive and persevere and ultimately thrive. That is our nature as a People and we must draw strength from that.
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