Name on ballot:
Donovan Dela Cruz
State Senate – District 17
Previous job history:
Honolulu City Council, Public Relations
Previous elected office, if any:
Honolulu City Council, Senate District 22
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
As the state senator currently representing Senate District 22, I am now a candidate for Senate District 17 which includes Mililani Town, Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley, Waipio Acres. In my current position, I have been able to deliver funding for major projects for our community such as:
The new civic center in Wahiawa
The value-added product development center
A new building at Mililani Middle School to transition the school to a single track calendar
The First Responders Technology Campus and Cybersecurity Data Center in Mililani
I also have lived in this community my entire life and know the needs of the people that I represent.
What is the most pressing issue facing residents in your district and how would you address the problem?
Homelessness and cost of living are the biggest issues facing my district. I am committed to the extension of the Ohana Zones Program and rental subsidies to keep families housed who are on the brink of homelessness. Also, I funded a triage center through the Institute of Human Services so that HPD officers have a location to drop off homeless individuals who are the most vulnerable.
For cost of living, we are issuing $250 million in tax rebates for fiscal year 2023, making the earned income tax credit permanent and refundable, restoring or increasing multiple Medicaid programs, investing $300 million affordable housing so local families can live in Hawaii, providing $600 million for Hawaiian Homelands development, and committed to increase the minimum wage to $18/hour by 2028. These investments will go a long way to addressing the cost of living issues that have been amplified by supply chain issues and rapid inflation.
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?
Although inflation is largely due to consumer demand and the inability of interstate commerce supply chain to meet those demands, some state level responses can be done to ease the pain. We can lessen the tax burden on the low and middle income earners and support increasing the minimum wage. We did both this past session as we approved tax rebates, made the earn income tax credit permanent and refundable, and committed to increasing the minimum wage to $18 by 2028.
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?
The Governor already announced that he is not in favor of a suspension because this would have a major impact on the state’s highway fund which is used to maintain and rebuild major highways throughout Hawaii. It would also put federal grants at jeopardy as many projects require a state match for the funding.
Do you support or oppose efforts to slow or limit the number of tourists to Hawaii? Please explain.
We need to lower the physical and environmental impacts from Tourism by reducing the number of visitors while increasing the visitor spending amounts. I support impact fees and reservations for any site or attraction in which a negative environmental footprint needs to be offset. The fees and scheduling will help to limit the volume and frequency of visitors. Furthermore, the fees will also help to pay for the care and maintenance of these recreational areas and special places. I believe that we should be expanding beyond conventionally-known tourist hotspots (e.g. Waikiki) by integrating and leveraging State resources and facilities into HTA’s Destination Management Action Plans. For example, actively promoting visits to the Convention Center, State parks, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum and other lesser known State Foundation on Culture and Arts sites would disperse the volume of tourists from the more well known tourist attractions across the State. We could better manage the movement and impact of tourists if we promote certain urban and rural visitor trails – curated historical, cultural, commercial stops, annual local events, festivals, and parades that are planned with the community which would need to be well-resourced with parking, restrooms, etc.
Can Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy be diversified, and, if so, what can state government do to support the effort?
The State of Hawai’i must look at diversifying its economy. While over the years, many administrations have made it a priority to diversify the economy, it has not happened for one reason or another. Hawaii was once an agriculture-based economy but, due to the downsizing of the pineapple and sugar industries, Hawaii moved further into the direction of Tourism to build its economy. Hawaii’s economic structure is made up of small businesses.
We should be looking at this same structure to help rebuild the agriculture industry in Hawaii. While we will never be able to replace the large plantation operations of the past, we have been working on developing the industry through providing land, water, value-added products, and foodhubs to assist the small farmer and related industries.
Through various bills this session, my office is working with UH, DOE, ADC, and DOA in developing support for these small businesses so they can be more profitable and be able to increase their capacity of food production. Our efforts are to help lower and stabilize their expenses so that they can increase production of their specialized products.
What is your plan to increase affordable housing in Hawaii, and to help the counties deal with homelessness?
This past legislative session, housing was one of my top priorities. It’s critical to ensure that the State addresses housing from multiple approaches. Our residents need housing options that range from rentals to home ownership. Additionally, there needs to be adequate rental and fee simple home inventory available in our communities. Rent subsidies and safe well-maintained State housing developments must also be part of addressing the State’s widespread housing shortage.
This legislative session, I worked diligently to provide funding for numerous housing solutions which included
· $300M for affordable unit development
· $5M for affordable home ownership
· $600M for Hawaiian Homelands housing units
· $500K for rental assistance service
We provided $15,000,000 through HB2512 for the Ohana Zones Program which provided grants to the counties to fund programs like the HONU operated by HPD and the Kumuwai building which houses kupuna 62 years and older till they can find permanent housing. The counties play a critical role in the Ohana Zones Program and it would not have been as successful as it is without their partnership.
I’m always open to discussing new ideas and solutions on how we can address long standing complex issues like homelessness. There is no silver bullet that will end homeIessness here at home. I welcome our residents to share potential solutions or present a plan that can assist the legislature in determining the best path forward to addressing homelessness in their community or across the State.
What would you propose to help protect Hawaii residents’ health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
This session the legislature appropriated a total of $7.5 million dollars for covid-19 mitigation and testing to both the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health. Continuing to follow the procedure and guidelines from the CDC is something that we must do as a state in order to ensure the safety and security of public health in Hawaii. It’s imperative that the State departments work together to develop and disseminate a proactive system, such as standardized protocols for continuing to conduct business based on the type of business engagement involved. Businesses wanted to re-open and most have sought guidance on how to do it safely, responsibly, and in accordance with each of the Governor’s proclamations. Hawai’i was built on the backs of small businesses and they are the largest collective employer across the State; thus, it is critically important that we contain and mitigate COVID-19, so they can open their doors and commerce can continue.
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?
Based on the Council of Revenues May 2022 forecast, Hawai’i is expected to see a surplus over the next two years, which is great news. We have an opportunity to spend the surplus in areas that require large funding investments that will truly move the needle in creating a healthy and economically vibrant Hawai’i. It’s important to note the temporary nature of a surplus, therefore the spending priorities must be aligned to appropriations that can infuse one-time funds that can be spent in quick order and in a very strategic way. One of the best uses of surplus funds would be for the State to invest in purchasing, developing and supporting infrastructure for housing, agriculture and aquaculture and renewable energy.
Our state also needs a healthy and well trained workforce to support emerging industries in Healthcare, AgTech, Aquaculture, Information Technology and Renewable Energy. This session I introduced a bill, soon to become law, to establish the Office of Wellness and Resilience within the Governor’s Office to address widespread trauma and toxic stress resulting from generational neglect and abuse and the recent pandemic. This newly established office will coordinate trauma-informed care efforts across the islands and all state departments while leveraging federal, county, private and philanthropic dollars along with State surplus funds to seed critical mental and behavioral health initiatives. Additionally, an infusion of funds can be used to develop public private partnerships between the private sector and the Department of Education and University of Hawaii Community Colleges to develop and deliver short term job training and industry credentialing to ensure we can employ, upskill and re-skill students and residents for high paying quality positions in emerging and high need industries across the islands.
What, if anything, should state government do in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade?
Hawaii’s government will continue to ensure women’s rights at the state level and that necessary healthcare is provided to the women who need them.
What should state government do to support and improve public education in Hawaii?
We must better prepare our children for not just college but more importantly careers. Nearly half of Hawaii’s public school graduates do not pursue education beyond high school. Developing a curriculum that prepares our children for the workforce demands of today, as well as the workforce needs of the future, will be critical to ensure economic prosperity for our state. This means working with professionals across various fields to integrate industry-recognized credentials into the curriculum. This also means providing opportunities to gain practical work experience ensuring that our public school graduates have the skills and expertise that employees seek. That is why I am proud to have funded an apprenticeship program within the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations that will provide over 300 paid internship opportunities across state government.
Career and technical education has been a focal point of my tenure with the legislature, and I look forward to continue working with the Department of Education, the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism, and the Department of Labor and Industrial Resources to ensure that our children have viable options to obtain a living wage and remain in Hawaii. Reversing the brain drain will require concerted efforts with both educators and employers to foster the next generation of Hawaii’s leaders.
What reforms, if any, would you propose to make local government more transparent to the public?
With the hard work of our IT and Sergeant-at-Arms staff, I am proud of the actions taken by the Senate this year to increase access and participation in the legislative process: meetings are fully hybrid to allow for in-person and remote participation; hearings and floor sessions are live-streamed and available for later viewing on YouTube; and the Capitol was reopened to the public. These changes not only allow for increased access, participation, and transparency, but will also increase our accountability to the constituents we serve.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
Although I support economic diversification, Mauna Kea needs to be managed better. As new telescopes were built, older telescopes should have been decommissioned to minimize the impact on the mountain. As management of the mountain improves, legally authorized and permitted construction should be allowed.
HB2024 HD1 SD2 CD1, which I supported, proposes a new management structure of Mauna Kea under the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority to balance the interests and concerns of the Native Hawaiian community with the interests of the State through the University of Hawaiʻi’s world-class science-based education and astronomy programs. In collaboration with the chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, we believe that this bill is reflective of the many discussions that we’ve had with various community groups, stakeholders, and from the testimony that we’ve received from the public. Once the bill becomes law, I look forward to working with the administration and various stakeholders to ensure better stewardship of Mauna Kea.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
I was born and raised in my district. My grandparents made their roots in Wahiawa and my family has been there for three generations. I am a proud graduate of Leilehua High School and continue to live in my hometown of Wahiawa.
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