comscore 2022 Election: Sylvia Luke | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Election

2022 Election: Sylvia Luke

  • Sylvia Luke
Name on ballot:

Sylvia Luke

Running for:

Lieutenant Governor

Political party:

Democrat

Campaign website:

www.sylvialukeforlg.com

Current occupation:

Hawaii State Representative & Attorney

Age:

54

Previous job history:

Hawaii State Representative – District 25, Attorney – Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks

Previous elected office, if any:

Hawaii State Representative

Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.

The Lieutenant Governor can help create change and be a channel for our communities to make sure voices from across our state are heard. An effective LG means a person who knows about State government, who has a history of collaborating to solve problems, and who has created working relationships with many individuals across the State. I have honed those skills over my years of public service. Together, let’s make preschool available to all, build housing that’s affordable and take care of our ʻāina and its people. I will work hard to help make Hawaiʻi better for all of us.

What will be your top priority if elected?

Hawaiʻi needs more affordable housing for our working families and young professionals. The 2019 estimate from the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) projected a need for 36,155 units by 2030. My son Logan is currently attending college in the mainland, and I am really concerned whether he will be able to come home after graduation. Not just because of opportunities up there, but because I don’t know if he sees himself being able to return and make Hawaiʻi his home. It’s sad that a place he grew up all his life, he has trouble seeing a future here. Median prices are over $1M now, and outpricing young professional and working families from buying a home. Our state needs to get serious about providing more affordable housing opportunities if we want to see our kamaʻāina stay and live here.

If elected as LG, I will do what I did as Finance Chair and bring key stakeholders together to figure out ways to build more homes for purchase or rental more quickly. That will likely mean streamlining permitting. It will mean providing more state resources – funds or state lands – to fast-track projects.

How do you view the role of the lieutenant governor’s office and how will you approach fulfilling that role?

Based on my experience and knowledge of the state issues and systems, along with my strong relationships with the legislature and my deep network and collaboration with community groups and organizations, I think my role as Lieutenant Governor would be unique. I am equipped to be an effective partner for the Governor, and a central place for voices in our community to be heard. This means setting a clear vision and plan with the Governor so that I can effectively help pass bills to move forward on one agenda. Together we can create change in our community. I’d be a Lieutenant Governor that helps the Governor with the Legislature, collaborate with state departments, and make sure we executive on good ideas for change. The Lieutenant Governor can be a channel for our communities, to make sure voices from across our state are heard. I know state systems; have a history of collaboration to solve problems.

Also as a legislator, I was able to pass many laws to help improve the lives of Hawaiʻi’s people. However, once a law is passed, it is up to the Executive Branch to implement these laws and bring changes into reality. I have watched many laws languish and not effectively effectuated. I am running for Lieutenant Governor to help put laws into effect.

Rising inflation has significantly worsened Hawaii’s already high cost of living. What can be done at the state level to help Hawaii residents cope with high consumer prices?

Pre-pandemic, 42% of Hawaii households struggled to make ends meet while 33% qualified as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed) – households living below the federal poverty level. These families work in key Hawaiʻi industries, yet do not earn enough to support their own households—meaning that these families may be forced to choose between spending income on quality healthcare, necessary childcare, food, or rent.

This past legislative session, I was proud that we passed proposals increasing Hawaiʻi’s minimum wage, strengthening the earned income tax credit by making it permanent and refundable, providing a $300 tax rebate to Hawaii’s working families, creating a retirement savings program for employees who do not receive a retirement program through their employer, and providing $300 million investment into affordable housing. These measures will bring needed relief to Hawaii’s most challenged populations; however, more will need to be done.

If elected as LG, I will continue to support providing greater access to housing for Hawaii families, including investing into affordable housing and honoring the state’s commitment to expanding homestead housing for DHHL beneficiaries and advocate to provide additional resources for childcare through expanded pre-kindergarten access for all of Hawaiʻi’s keiki.

Hawaii’s rising gasoline prices are among the highest in the nation. Should Hawaii lower or temporarily suspend state taxes on gasoline to help ease the pain at the pump?

I am open to a temporary suspension of the state’s gas tax, but I would like to see if there are ways that it can be implemented to more likely benefit low-or-middle income households, such as a suspension only for regular gas and not the higher-octane gasoline more typically associated with luxury vehicles.

I have concerns about a long-term suspension of the gas tax as this is a central source of revenues for our roads and highways maintenance. Hawaiʻi already suffers from many poor roads. We know where they are as we drive on them every day, avoiding potholes and feeling the bumps along the way. As such, if gas prices continue to stay at these inflated prices, we will need to look at alternative ways to fund our road maintenance.

What is your plan to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?

As we continue grappling with COVID-19’s impact as case counts rise and fall, we have been fortunate that the latest surge, which appears to be decreasing, has not shown to have had the same devastating impacts with severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. Overall, the hospital cases have not been as high nor as severe and so I take some solace in that fact. But this does not mean that we can all simply go back to living as we did pre-pandemic. Hawaiʻi as a state showed great resilience and community caring as we took care of one another, protected one another and had one of the lowest health impacts of any state in the nation.

As we move forward, it is important that the state continues to carefully track the health data and make decisions that are based on the data. It is important that the state clearly and immediately communicate when there are needs for any changes to rules or requirements for our residents.

The good news is that now that we have lived through this difficult time, we know what works and what does not. We were fortunate to have gotten some federal support and fund to help, but should something like this arise, even if it is a pandemic for another illness, we are better prepared and ready. With Hawaiʻi’s resilience and its strong sense of community I am confident we will be able to weather the remainder of this pandemic, and we are prepared for the next.

Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.

Residents’ attitudes and tolerance for tourism has changed dramatically. After hitting a record-breaking ten million-plus visitors to our state in 2019, along with seeing what island life looked and felt like for locals when tourism plummeted during the lockdown and a sudden surge of overwhelming return last summer, there were grumbles and complaints that it was “too much.”

At the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), we have seen their plans change from just “marketing” tourism, to now “managing” tourism. I support this more managed approach to tourism in Hawaiʻi so that we not just satisfy residents’ calls to address “over-tourism,” but also adopt efforts within the tourism industry to offer visitor experiences that are less intensive on our infrastructure. I support the HTA’s initiative to create a comprehensive destination management program, which seeks visitors who appreciate and care for our natural resources and respect our host culture.

How can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and what can state government do to support the effort?

Economic diversification is critical because wages in service-related jobs remains limited, but there are more opportunities and higher wages in emerging knowledge-based industries. This means nurturing sustainable industries like renewable energy, environmental technology, and revitalizing the agricultural sector through incentives. The state can help these industries by directing government infrastructure spending and growing partnerships between our educational institutions and private sector to prepare Hawaiʻi residents to compete for jobs.

The lesson from the last two years is that the State must be more self-reliant in food production. The State can provide more suitable agriculture lots for use by farmers, support farm hubs and provide incentives to encourage people to enter farming as a profession.

What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?

Creating affordable housing stock is a critical investment into the future generations of Hawaii’s families. As Finance Chair, I used a hands-on approach and worked on solutions, including using federal money to help create more supply of affordable housing. We also extended tax credits to increase the supply of low-income rentals.

Few years ago, I provided $200 million, the largest one-time funding, to the Rental Housing Revolving Fund. That infusion of funds has been used to develop 1300 new units. This year I increased that amount to $300 million. It is expected that the money will generate 1700 new units. If elected as LG, I will work with both the State and the Counties to fast track some of these projects so that units get built quickly.

Building new inventory is not enough. Many residents cannot afford to pay the rent that’s being charged. That is why I not only provided funding for rent subsidies but also found ways to use federal TANF funds to supplement people’s rent, as much as $500 a month. I will continue to find innovative ways to decrease the burden of rent and housing costs.

One of the barriers to creating affordable housing is the cost of infrastructure. Infrastructure cost adds about $200,000 to a home price. I would work with the legislature and the administration to set up a program that would provide loans to developers to defray the initial up-front investment of those infrastructure costs. In return, the developer must agree to keep the home price below a certain amount that is aimed at affordable housing costs. We need to try different and innovative way to address the affordable housing issue.

Furthermore, as Lieutenant Governor, I will:
● Continue supporting the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation, the Hawaiʻi Public Housing Authority, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in their mission, and advocate for them to get more resources and funding.
● Fight for additional resources to address the 36,155 needed units as projected by the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism
● Continue to be a budget hawk, ensuring that the significant investments made by the Legislature during session 2022 are properly invested to address the Housing needs of Hawaiʻi’s families
● Engage with government, non-profit, and private sector stakeholders to ensure that all of Hawaiʻi’s families will have access to affordable housing and building a future for all of Hawaiʻi’s families.

As a state we have enacted several different programs to help our houseless residents. ʻOhana zones and wrap-around services for our families are examples.

But tackling pervasive homelessness requires leadership and coordination. First, we need to look at the different reasons people are homeless, and then we have to break down the multiple silos of state departments – health, human services, veterans, judiciary.

We need someone willing to work across federal and county jurisdictions and programs,
someone that can help bring together community and nonprofit leader and organizations on
the ground. This is the kind of thing I have done multiple times – with the Hawaiʻi Restaurant Card, for example. With tackling the logjam of Unemployment Insurance claims during the pandemic. It’s what the right Lieutenant Governor with the right experience can do.

Hawaii isn’t likely to see a repeat of this year’s $2 billion revenue surplus which allowed higher-than-normal spending on state programs and projects. If elected, what will your top spending priorities be?

1. Currently only half of our keiki have access to early learning. As a strong advocate for early childhood education, and with laws and programs I helped pass, I will work with the State departments to make sure we have classrooms and educators for all keiki.

2. Broadband access will be more equitable and consistent across our state regardless of whether a resident is in an urban, suburban or rural community. Broadband access with an inter-island interconnected undersea cable to allow for more competitors than just our existing two incumbent providers (HawaiianTelCom and Charter) and additional “last-mile” broadband buildouts into more rural communities that currently have limited of very slow access. Fortunately, there is already over a hundred million dollars in federal funds we can tap to help pay for this, and if elected as Lt. Governor, I plan to work with the University of Hawaii to help them plan and build a comprehensive broadband system.
3. Invest in building additional affordable rentals and for sale units by providing incentives and programs to streamline and prioritize resources.

What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?

Hawaiʻi’s Constitution has an express right to privacy, which provides clearer protections against government intrusion, unlike the federal Constitution where privacy is an implied right. But more importantly, Hawaii is fortunate to have statutorily protected the right to choose in law. In 2006, I was proud to be a legislator that supported this clear protection.

However, legal protection alone does not mean there is adequate access, especially on the neighbor islands. I am proud that we passed a law to allow properly trained advance practice registered nurses to conduct this procedure so that there are more providers in the state. I am also proud that we passed funding in the recent state budget to ensure low-income Medicaid recipients have access to this service.

What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?

I am optimistic that the recent decision to appoint Keith Hayashi as the permanent Superintendent will provide the DOE with continuity, stability, and informed local perspective. I believe he has a clear understanding of our education system and a clear record of success with his years as Principal Waipahu High School— one of the largest high schools in the state. Thus, I am hopeful that we will provide more steady and decisive leadership from the Department of Education.

I have consistently advocated for ways for our state to control and set its fixed costs so that we have more ability to direct discretionary funding. Should I prevail as Lt. Governor, I plan to use my knowledge and experience with the state budget to help ensure we improve and bolster our educational system by: (1) reducing the teacher-pupil ratio; (2) increasing professional development for teachers, and (3) educating the whole child with:
• restoration/strengthening of career and technical education,
• expansion of college prep curriculum; and
• support for the arts.

With our current teacher shortage and need to recruit and retain quality educators, I believe that the state needs to do more to address teachers’ pay. I’m grateful that our revenues allowed me to take a leading role this session in addressing issues like wage compression in teacher pay categories and funding necessary teacher pay increases. However, there is still more to be done in severely understaffed areas like special education and Native Hawaiian immersion. Too many teachers do not make it past 5 years and exit because they do not see the benefits of a long teaching career. We need to change that if we are to see a difference in our retention and recruitment rates for new teachers. This will require a large and clear commitment, but I believe it is achievable.

What reforms, if any, would you propose to make state government more transparent to the public?

Having served in the legislature, I think there are definite areas of improvement needed for more transparency and accountability. I support ensuring open records laws apply to the legislature.

Accountability and transparency of state government can be achieved by requiring more disclosures of potential conflicts of interest, more transparency on financial and ethical disclosures, by increasing enforcement and resources for government watchdog agencies.

Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?

I support astronomy and the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope but believe there needs to be a balance against further intrusion and degradation of this area that is considered sacred by Native Hawaiians. As such, I supported and voted in favor of House Bill 2024 which will change the management of Mauna Kea, by establishing an 11-member board that would oversee the stewardship, management and human activity on Mauna Kea.

The University of Hawaii would transfer management to the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority which would include Native Hawaiians, educators, the mayor of Hawaii County and other stakeholders. They would help ensure that any projects on Mauna Kea would not increase the footprint or impacts, and instead allow building when there has been decommissioning of outdated telescopes.

Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?

I’m running for Lieutenant Governor to get things done. We had such a productive legislative
session and, if elected, I would work tirelessly to implement policies to increase universal
preschool, develop teacher housing to help with the shortage of educators in the state and to find creative ways to create more affordable housing. Campaigning statewide has
strengthened my belief in collaboration and working for the collective good and I hope to be
a part of building a better future.

During the shutdown, I helped the Governor set up a satellite office at the Convention Center and signed up over 600 volunteers to process a significant increase in unemployment claims. I also assisted the Governor to oversee the use and deployment of the federal funds, including $100 million in rent subsidy, the Restaurant Card and distribution of protective equipment. I have done what I envision the Lieutenant Governor could do in various circumstances to assist the Governor. I would be grateful for your support in this upcoming election to put my skills into use.


View more candidate questionnaires or see more 2022 Hawaii elections coverage.
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