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Friday, March 20, 2015
Top Issues? Budget, Homelessness, Housing, Rail Tax, and Marijuana
By Selected News Articles @ 2:56 PM :: 6543 Views :: Homelessness, Rail, Taxes, Drugs

THE 50 STATE PROJECT

A report on the top state issues of 2015 by the reporters who cover them.

From CQ Roll Call  March, 2015

HAWAII

1. BUDGET: Financial Woes May Be Ahead Just a few minutes into his first state of the state speech Gov. David Ige pronounced a simple truth: Hawaii is spending more than it takes in. Ige’s $25.7 billion operating budget for the upcoming biennium relies on $665 million in carryover funds, and that’s with tourism breaking an all-time record last year with almost 8.3 million visitors. Complicating matters, Hawaii is the third most unionized state in the nation on a per capita basis and public employees receive generous benefits. The Aloha State also has an extensive safety net. This will all come to a head as the state looks to increase revenue, cuts costs or both. Look for Ige, a pragmatist and former chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, to start a conversation on the need to begin balancing the state’s books, which is required by the state Constitution.

2. HOMELESSNESS: Officials Struggle to Address Growing Population Although Hawaii remains a tropical paradise as the most isolated landmass on the planet, it’s getting more difficult for those who live here to carve out a living. The sad results can be seen daily in the number of people living on city streets, under bridges or in cars. On Oahu, the state’s population center, homelessness has increased over the past five years. In a state of just 1.4 million people that is still largely dependent on tourism, the issue has been a focal point of the Democratic-controlled Legislature. But state lawmakers have also been criticized for failing to back up their handwringing with substantial funding for programs.

3. HOUSING: Prices are Rising -- And So is Demand What can you buy in your state for $675,000? In Hawaii, that’s the median price of a single-family home, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors. On Oahu alone, 24,000 new units are needed over the next 15 years to address pent-up demand, according to a report by the Office of Housing. A 2011 housing study said the state will be 50,000 units short by 2016. To address the problem, the Legislature may allow the construction of modular units, such as those built from shipping containers. Gov. David Ige and state lawmakers are also trying to integrate Honolulu’s $5.3 billion rail project into affordable housing solutions through transit-oriented development. The governor has also said he will pursue federal dollars.

4. TRANSPORTATION: Honolulu’s Rail Line Continues to Raise Doubts Honolulu’s rail line is Hawaii’s most infamous public works project, the largest in its 55-year history. Although it is being built by the City and County of Honolulu, the legislature set the project in motion in 2005 when it approved a half-percent increase in the state’s general excise tax. But the elevated train is already more than $900 million over budget -- and that’s with 40 percent of the contracts yet to be issued. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has asked House and Senate lawmakers to extend the rail tax beyond its sunset date at the end of 2022 to make the controversial project whole again. Gov. David Ige has reacted skeptically, saying the request is “premature,” and wants to see that the city is doing everything to reduce costs. The elevated, driverless system stretching 20 miles from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center is scheduled to open in 2019, but whether or not the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation can continue its construction schedule may depend on what Ige and state lawmakers ultimately decide.

5. MARIJUANA: Fight Over Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill In the year 2000, Hawaii was one of the first states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana under Act 228. Fifteen years later, state lawmakers are struggling with what to do next. Under current law, the 13,000 or so patients who hold a Department of Health medical marijuana card are allowed to possess four ounces of processed pot. However, there are no dispensaries in the state and patients are required to either grow their own, or obtain the drug from traffickers. Supporters hope to change that through a House bill that would set up 26 medical marijuana dispensaries and an unspecified number of production centers. Look for the bill to be challenged by the conservative wing of the Democratic Party and law enforcement officials, who believe dispensaries will lead to full legalization.

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