Hawaii Island County Mayor Billy Kenoi testified at the Legislature in Honolulu today before the Senate Ways & Means and House Finance committees. Below is the text of his testimony:
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to outline our priorities on issues important to the County of Hawai’i in 2013.
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of United States Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who was a courageous leader and a respected, tireless advocate for Hawai‘i at the U.S. Congress. We all miss the senator’s leadership, his friendship and his powerful, compassionate voice advocating for Hawai‘i’s people on the national stage. As we begin this first session of the Legislature since the senator’s passing, this is an appropriate time to reflect on one of his most fundamental political principles, which is the importance of unity. The senator spent his life bringing people together to work for a simple, common purpose, which was to improve the lives of Hawai‘i’s people. We honor his memory, and I look forward to working collaboratively with all members of the House and Senate to serve each of our communities.
This is my fifth message to the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance Committees, and we are encouraged by signs of a gradual economic recovery at the state level, including recent increases in visitor arrivals and visitor spending. Most importantly, we are relieved to see the recent declines in unemployment statewide. We all understand how our working families have struggled during the recession, and we look forward to a return to a healthier, more vibrant economy.
As we continue to navigate this challenging economic environment, we welcome the initiatives by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Legislature to quickly advance state projects and programs to support our families, provide needed infrastructure, create jobs and boost our economy.
Improvements to Highway 130, Kea’au-Pahoa Highway
We ask for your support and stand ready to assist the state in any way we can to provide urgently needed traffic relief to working people who are commuting each day on the Kea’au-Pahoa Highway. This heavily traveled, highly congested state highway serves one of the fastest growing regions in our state. In November the state opened bids on the first phase of the plan to convert the existing shoulder lane system on the highway into permanent lanes, and construction is scheduled to begin by mid-2013. We appreciate the support the Legislature has already given to this critically needed transportation infrastructure.
Looking ahead, we ask your committee to approve state funding for the larger plan to expand more than nine miles of the Kea‘au-Pahoa Highway to four lanes. State studies have shown that four intersections along this highway rank among the most dangerous in the state based on the numbers of serious accidents, and improvements to this thoroughfare have become an urgent matter of public safety. Money is available to begin design work for this larger project to increase the capacity on this highway and make it safer, but no source of construction funding has been identified. Your commitment to provide state funding for this project would protect public safety and significantly improve the quality of life for the residents of Puna.
Mid-Level Road (Ane Keohokalole Highway), Kona, Phase III
We have completed work on the first three miles of the Ane Keohokalole Highway at a cost of $30.5 million. This road was the largest expenditure of American Recovery & Reinvestment Act money for transportation infrastructure in Hawai‘i, and stands as a powerful reminder of what we can accomplish with teamwork and cooperation between government, the private sector, cultural and environmental organizations, and the community.
We are now requesting $3.5 million in state funding to initiate planning for the third phase of the Ane Keohokalole Highway from Hina Lani Street to Ka‘iminani Drive. This will be the final three-mile stretch of a six-mile arterial extending from Palani Road in Kailua-Kona to Kalaoa, mauka of Kona International Airport.
This project will complete a continuous mid-level route between the urban centers of Kailua-Kona and Kona Palisades, and will serve the new Hawai‘i Community College-Palamanui campus in West Hawai‘i. It will ease traffic congestion during peak hours on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway, and provide an alternative emergency travel route to serve West Hawai‘i in the event of closure of Mamalahoa Highway. The Ane Keohokalole Highway is facilitating the growth of a safe and vibrant community, and is fostering economic development by opening up opportunities for affordable housing and places to learn, work, and play.
Civil Defense Sirens
We strongly agree with the administration’s budget request for an extra $2.5 million in each of the next two fiscal years to modernize the state civil defense siren system, which is critical to protect public safety. The Legislature has already provided $16.4 million to begin its statewide modernization effort, and we thank you for that support. We expect to see contractors at work around the state by mid-2013 on the first phases of this project, which will convert the existing radio-activated siren system to a more reliable satellite- and cellular-based system.
The additional $5 million the governor has requested for the siren systems over the next two years would be used to add new sirens to better notify the public in the event of an emergency. That would include 36 additional, modern sirens planned for Hawai‘i Island, and we urge your committees to continue this effort to protect our communities and expand this important piece of our public safety infrastructure.
CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Statewide Juvenile Intake and Assessment Centers
The Hawai‘i Office of Youth Services reports that 63 percent of the wards confined at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility come from the Neighbor Islands. We must do more to intervene earlier to provide better, more positive alternatives for these young people. We urgently need to divert these youths out of the criminal justice system and into services that will allow them to succeed and thrive.
This year the Office of Youth Services in partnership with the Hawai‘i County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney will launch the first juvenile intake and assessment center in East Hawai‘i with $200,000 in grant funding from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This new program to assess at-risk youth who have been arrested for minor or status offenses will identify the needs of these young people, and will link them and their families with appropriate services. These youths are not a threat to public safety, and diverting them out of the criminal justice system will help to free up our police officers for more important patrol duties, making better use of our public safety resources.
The administration’s proposed budget includes $800,000 for each of the next two years to expand this juvenile intake and assessment effort to every island in Hawai‘i, and we strongly agree with this initiative. This appropriation would provide enough funding to open a new center in West Hawai‘i, and will benefit our young people, our police and the entire community. It will save our state taxpayers money in the long run.
College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building
We ask for your continued support in building on the successes of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and our community college system, which have allowed higher education to emerge as an economic engine on Hawai’i Island. In 2010, UH-Hilo accounted for an estimated $200 million in direct expenditures, and the university is the second largest employer in East Hawai’i. The university system is preparing our young people for success in our community and across the state, and the continued growth of our higher educational system is integral to our economic success and our future.
In 2011 the College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo became the first school of pharmacy in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Region to become fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. The college is the only school in the state offering a doctorate in pharmacy, and has been an extraordinary success. An economic impact study in 2011 found the college is generating more than $50 million per year in economic activity statewide, and each dollar of investment in salaries at the college is attracting more than three dollars in spending from outside sources. The college has emerged as a jewel of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
The college was granted accreditation before obtaining permanent facilities, which College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto has called a “leap of faith” by the board of directors at the accreditation council. It is now time to provide a permanent home to meet the long-range needs of the college to allow it to fulfill its promise as a center for excellence in education and health sciences. We strongly agree with the administration’s request for $41 million in general obligation and revenue bonds over the next two years to finance the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building.
Primary Care Training and Rural Residency Program
The state and Hawai‘i Island continue to face a severe physician shortage, with a recent study estimating that the County of Hawai’i needs 150 more doctors to provide an adequate level of access to health care for our residents. Projections by the John A. Burns School of Medicine show the physician shortage will dramatically worsen in the next five years as many doctors retire. An important piece of the solution for our community is the rural residency program, which is now undergoing national accreditation and will begin training residents in 2014. National research shows that 80 percent of residents practice near where they train, and we know this program will help ease the physician shortage in our county and in rural areas across the state.
We are working collaboratively with the Hawai’i Health Systems Corporation and our Hawai’i Island delegation to advance a measure to provide $2.8 million in each of the next two fiscal years for the HHSC primary care training program. This includes the Hawai’i Island Family Medicine Residency program, and will also offer training to advanced practice nurses from programs at University of Hawai’i at Manoa and at Hilo, and from the UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy. This program will produce inter-disciplinary teams that can care for four times as many patients as independent practitioners, and will expand to serve rural communities on each of the islands. We believe this is an innovative and effective strategy for improving access to primary care services.
PARKS AND RECREATION
Transfer of Hapuna and Mauna Kea State Recreation Areas
We are once again respectfully asking the Legislature to transfer the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area and the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area to the County of Hawai‘i. With the proper public investment these parks can offer extraordinary recreational experiences, and the county is ready and able to assume these responsibilities. We continue to believe this proposal will increase government efficiency and save taxpayer dollars while allowing more of our residents and visitors to fully enjoy these unique and precious park facilities.
The County of Hawai‘i has discussed this proposal with the Department of Land and Natural Resources in the past, and we remain willing to work with the state to take over the operation, maintenance, and improvement of the Mauna Kea and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Areas without the transfer of any state personnel or equipment.
Park maintenance and operations are core county services, and the county maintains other parks in South Kohala near Hapuna including Spencer Beach Park and the county parks at Waikoloa. The county plans to use economies of scale to minimize its maintenance and personnel costs. Meanwhile, the transfer of these facilities to the county will allow the DLNR to use its limited resources on other parks and state facilities. This is a smart solution that benefits everyone, but the most important beneficiaries are the children and families that will visit and enjoy these public treasures in the years ahead.
Kona International Airport Improvements
We strongly support the administration’s request for $113 million in improvements for Kona International Airport, including a $37.5 million international arrivals building, and $70 million for a major terminal expansion. Kona continues to welcome chartered international flights from Japan, and we are working aggressively to attract additional international air traffic.
These Kona airport improvements are important to the state as a whole. Honolulu International Airport is the fourth busiest airport in the U.S. in terms of international flights received, and Honolulu operates at its top capacity during busier times of the year. The administration’s proposed airport improvements on Hawai’i Island will firmly establish Kona as the state’s second gateway for international visitors, and provide an avenue for our state to continue to grow as an international visitor destination during the busiest travel seasons.
Modernizing and expanding the capacity of Kona International Airport for international flights and to encourage interisland travel is an important investment that promotes steady, solid growth of our entire state’s visitor industry.
Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with all of our distinguished legislators in the weeks ahead. We appreciate your hard work and your commitment to our communities.