Senate Minority Opening Day Remarks – 28th State Legislature, 2016
by State Senator Sam Slom (R – 9th District O’ahu), Senate Minority Leader
HONOLULU — Today, Senate Minority Leader Senator Sam Slom delivered the following remarks in his Opening Day address for the first day of the 28th State Legislature:
"Governor Ige, Senate President Kouchi, our Military Men and Women, distinguished guests, and overburdened Hawaii taxpayers, on behalf of the entire Senate Minority: Aloha!
Looking around, I am saddened that we didn’t allow more people to join us on our opening EVERY year; no amount of public celebration should reduce our resolve to work on this day. But this recent “biennium tradition” of curtailing festivities in the even year limits taxpayers from being with us in the Peoples’ Capitol. I hope we eliminate this “tradition” in the future.
What should the goal be for this election year 2016 Legislative Session?
The Senate Minority’s point of view can be summed up in a word: ACCOUNTABILITY.
The Legislature must be more accountable for unfulfilled promises, wasted tax money, poorly written contracts and unenforceable legislation. The Legislature is accountable for failing to penalize poor performance by government and/or excusing individual bad or corrupt behavior.
We are honored to represent the people of Hawaii and to earn their trust and respect, but we must do a better job of oversight. Especially fiscal oversight. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on our watch because we haven’t held government agencies accountable for delays, waste and mismanagement.
Our $26 billion biennial operating budget is bloated and in deficit. So too our $28 billion unfunded liability. The Senate Minority sponsors the Hawaii Open Budget so you can see the budgets for yourself. We also propose an annual Alternative Operating Budget—our suggestions on how to trim the fat, pay down debt and restore the fiscal health of our government.
While we talk of change, we don’t change. Problems of a decade ago—or even longer— are still problems in Hawaii today: back breaking taxes, homelessness, the high cost of living, diminishing economic diversity, replacing our aging infrastructure, cooling our classrooms, among others.
We seem to be out of touch with reality, making it increasingly difficult to speak out against the cause of problems in Hawaii and to call for change. Yet it must be done. How? Simply stated, we must do a much better job not of making new promises, but of making good on old ones.
Our job is to restore and encourage the public’s confidence in our process, and to be more transparent and accountable ourselves, while empowering our citizens. We have to do more than just make speeches; we need appropriate action. We can do this. We must do this.
The public feels disconnected because we haven’t done the best we can do.
Your Senate Minority continues to believe that Hawaii’s economy has not turned an economic corner despite selected employment and tax data, and that too many of our citizens and small businesses continue to struggle needlessly.
Hawaii holds the distinction of having every major national organization rate Hawaii at or near #1 in the U.S. in homelessness, food stamps, and welfare subsidies per capita while ranking Hawaii #50 (the worst in the U.S.) to operate a small business, for a positive business climate and for residents' inability to save after paying basic necessities.
Hawaii is perceived as being “hostile” to business. We do have a state agency, the Department of Business and Economic Development, now operating as a Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Housing, Energy, Aerospace, Film, Art and Culture, Affordable Housing, Loans and Climate Change. There is no focused business advocate in Hawaii government that advocates for tax and regulatory relief to really help local business.
Senator Daniel Inouye promised the sugar industry would never fail. But we lost him three years ago. This year, we will lose sugar and previously successful diversified ag on the Neighbor Islands. Suggested use of those lands? Marijuana. Really? Do we really want Hawaii known for drug production, or should we expand into meaningful options like industrial hemp products which include food, textiles, building materials and other productive economic goods?
Will the plunder of prime agricultural lands continue on O’ahu? More congestion? Government action makes these projects possible.
Worse still, Hawaii has a reputation of not honoring its contractual commitments. Latest example: the Thirty Meter Telescope. Hawaii beat out worldwide competition to build the most powerful instrument of discovery and exploration, yet the project is now on hold. We need clear, decisive action to honor the TMT contract and get it built.
How many promises have already been broken, and are yet to be broken, on the off schedule, off budget originally $2.7 billion (now nearly $7 billion) O’ahu rail transit boondoggle? The Legislature made this never ending drain on taxes possible and is an enabler to the biggest and worst public project in Hawaii’s history. There is no accountability, while roads, sewers and water delivery continue to break down.
At this time last year, we worried that more than 20,000 of our active duty Army and 30,000 dependents—which we too often take for granted or criticize—might leave Hawaii causing more than $1 billion in economic loss. Our military is more than dollars; our fighting men and women contribute to all of our society, all the time. We dodged a bullet but we must improve our business climate and diversify by listening to those who have the proven ability to create jobs.
The Public Utilities Commission will shortly rule on the $4.3 billion takeover of Hawaiian Electric by Florida-based NextEra. As hard as we try, we cannot find significant benefits for Hawaii rate payers from this action; just more non-competitive monopoly.
As we have said in the past, the Hawaii Health Connector wasted more than $150 million dollars without improving health care. The “affordable” was taken out of the Affordable Care Act by boosting individual insurance premiums by as much as 40% for insurance companies to recover their share of the cost of this failed system. Millions more are being spent on the “transition” to the Federal exchange. It should receive no more state taxpayer funds.
We must continue to be compassionate, but not foolish, in helping the truly needy, while dealing firmly with those who prey on others and game the system. Stopping fraud is key.
We must increase our local residents’ standard of living by reducing their burdensome costs. We begin by eliminating the GET on food and medicine.
WE MUST PROMISE NO NEW TAXES! We need to call for federal affordable cargo shipping reform of the Jones Act, joining with like-minded lawmakers in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico.
Your Senate Minority offers a thoughtful, effective 5 point Action Agenda for 2016 including accountability for millions of dollars the state intends to spend on technology modernization.
On behalf of the Senate Minority, I pledge continued efforts to support good legislation, regardless of who introduces it; to examine and report honestly on the financial and policy impact of all bills, and to work toward ending Legislative exemptions for ourselves on laws we pass on to others.
We celebrate our God-given liberty, and our ability to change. We seek a “Better Day.” Working for a brighter, better future for Hawaii is not a partisan issue. Together, we must navigate a smarter course with a vision of how much greater Hawaii can be.
God Bless Hawaii, our Armed Forces, and the United States of America.
# # # # #
About the Hawaii Senate Minority
Senator Samuel M. Slom has represented Hawaii’s 9th senatorial district since 1996. The lone Republican in the Hawaii State Senate, Slom is presently the only single-member caucus in any legislature in the United States. Slom serves on all Senate committees, sub-committees and special committees, is minority leader and floor leader, and is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Environment and Technology. For further information on Senator Slom and the Hawaii Senate Minority, visit www.hawaii-senateminority.com.