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Hawaii Gov. Ige wary of furloughs and tax increases

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STAR-ADVERTISER VIDEO
Gov. David Ige joins the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's Spotlight Hawaii on Friday to discuss vaccination and the state budget crisis.

Despite Hawaii’s COVID-19-related money troubles, Gov. David Ige said Friday that “the last thing we want to do is raise taxes during an economic downturn. The last thing we want to do is have furloughs or layoffs, because we know it exacerbates the slowdown in our economy.”

Ige’s appearance on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii video web program followed Senate Ways and Means Committee testimony Monday by state Budget and Finance Director Craig Hirai that unspecified tax increases and “revenue enhancements” were under consideration to help plug a projected $1.4 billion shortfall.

On Friday, Ige remained hopeful that economic help is on the way.

The Council on Revenues on Thursday said the economy is outperforming earlier, dour predictions and should show signs of improvement in April, May and June and surge even more in the 2022 fiscal year.

Ige told Spotlight Hawaii on Friday that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden also brings hopes of direct financial aid to states and counties that is not included in the latest package of federal COVID-19 assistance.

“Without any additional federal assistance, we clearly would be looking at adding to the unemployment rolls with state and county public servants,” Ige said.

Ige originally proposed furloughs for thousands of state employees that had been scheduled to begin Jan. 1 but have now been postponed until July, when the next fiscal year begins.

Despite signs of economic improvement, Ige said that “the budget crisis is the biggest issue that we have to respond to.”

Ige was asked a wide range of questions and suggested that the best way to respond to the changing local, national and global COVID-19 situation is through his ongoing series of emergency proclamations, which are more nimble and flexible.

“If we had to legislate a solution in every instance, it would be very burdensome and cumbersome,” Ige said.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Scott Saiki told Spotlight Hawaii that he plans to introduce legislation that would create statewide, uniform COVID-19 travel rules to reduce confusion for both residents and tourists. Saiki also said that he is likely to introduce legislation that would lower the penalty for not wearing a mask in public from a misdemeanor — punishable with a maximum penalty of $5,000 and a year in jail — to a citation or violation.

The most recent spike in post-Christmas cases was expected, Ige said, “but obviously concerning.”

“We want to make sure that we don’t get overrun and that we don’t have to ration care or do those kinds of things that really put our community at risk,” he said.

The majority of cases are occurring through community spread that can be reduced by wearing masks, reducing travel and limiting interactions.

“It definitely is residents,” Ige said. “The number of cases that are tied to visitors continue to be a relatively small percentage of the cases that we’re seeing.”

“People don’t feel comfortable or safe traveling at this time,” he said. “And if people were to ask me what my recommendation is, I would tell them, ‘It’s not safe to be traveling unless you have to for work or it’s something that’s really important.’”

Asked about the potential for a statewide shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, Ige said, “I wouldn’t hesitate to issue a statewide restriction if we needed it.”

He and the county mayors remain in constant contact about COVID-19, but the experiences vary among the different counties.

“None of us really want to get to a shutown,” he said. “We are all trying to avoid that.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s incitement of a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to disrupt the counting of electoral votes, leading to deaths, Ige said:

“This has been a very dark week for our nation. I was appalled to see the president of the United States calling on people to take action in their own hands, ignore the law, storm the Capitol and ignore the voters’ wishes. The voters overwhelming supported Joe Biden for president and Kamala Harris for vice president in free and fair elections. That was the voice of the people. To see the president exhort supporters to storm the Capitol and stop the constitutionally required certification of results and declaration of the winner is just a horrible attack on democracy.”

Ige has met Trump, and said, “He does seem to be very reactive. I have a concern about what he may or may not do. … I think we should look at all options to make sure that the president doesn’t do anything that would damage the international reputation of the country, but most importantly, not put our citizens in harm’s way. I think we are all concerned that he doesn’t do something else that would really be catastrophic for our country.”

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