Future of Hawaii and the Nation Discussed at Council of State Governments West Meeting in Honolulu

The Council of State Governments West wrapped up its four day meeting in Waikiki yesterday. Lawmakers from 13 states met to discuss fiscal, environmental and energy challenges and solutions.

Joel Kotkin – Author of several books including “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050” – keynoted the event.

The United States is growing at a record rate and will boom by 100 million Americans by 2050, he said, making America “more diverse and more competitive than any nation on earth.”

The majority of these people won’t move to large cities, but instead will live in suburbia. He said our societies will be different in the future. Race won’t be an issue but class will be. The divide between rich and poor will be greater. The workforce will change with up to 30 percent of people working from home.

The U.S. Navy will become more important in our military defense as other countries such as China could be more of a threat by sea. He said that means Hawaii, including Pearl Harbor, and Alaska, will become all the more important to our nation’s security.

The government will need to make decisions locally instead of centrally with states being “laboratory of democracy.” He recommended that state governments pursue more flexible transit options such as the BRTs, jitneys or buses over light rail.

Of course Honolulu’s City & County is moving the other way, planning to build a $5.3 billion heavy steel on steel rail system from West Oahu to Honolulu. Local lawmakers are pushing residents to live in major cities instead of what creating they term “urban sprawl.” They are want what is termed “transit oriented development” or development along the proposed rail line on Oahu and so called “smart growth.”

Debt Ceiling Deal Sending Ripple Through States

Fiscal experts at the Mercatus Center based at George Mason University report the latest debt ceiling deal, which includes $2.4 trillion in cuts rather than Standard & Poor’s recommended $4 trillion, could lead to a U.S. credit downgrade, which would have “ripple effects on states and municipalities.”

Eileen Norcross and Matt Mitchell, scholars at the Mercatus Center, say this a “wake-up call and an opportunity for states to avoid the dangerous consequences of relying too much on federal revenue.”

“If there is a downgrade, the borrowing costs of all governments will likely increase,” said Mitchell. “As the federal government looks to get its fiscal house in order, it may choose to limit the amount of money it sends to the states.”

“Local economies will suffer without these extra dollars,” Mitchell says, “but, new research suggests that states taking more federal revenue will also have a harder time increasing employment in the private sector.”

Credit ratings agencies report that Virginia and Maryland are particularly sensitive to a U.S. downgrade because of heavy reliance on military spending. Hawaii also depends on military spending along with tourism and construction for its main economic drivers.

City’s Towing Consolidation Plan, Rail Condemnation Plan, Under Scrutiny

The City & County of Honolulu is moving to consolidate all of its towing contractors under one contract. City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi is concerned about the plan. She wants city officials to explain why the city’s three tow zones should be consolidated into one and put under one contractor, essentially creating a monopoly.

There have been several complaints about Stoneridge, one of the larger towing contractors. The budget committee is holding a hearing on this issue on Wednesday at the city council starting at 9 a.m.

On Thursday starting at 1 p.m., the council’s Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on condemnation of properties for the city’s proposed $5.3 billion heavy steel on steel rail project running from Kapolei to Honolulu.

The public can testify or see the hearing on television, channel 54. The city has budgeted $90 million for condementation but it has increased to $200 million, Kobayashi said.