BY MICHAEL HANSEN – Last week, at the U.S. Senate candidate forum that included former State Senator John Carroll, former Congressman Ed Case and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, they all missed the boat on an important infrastructure question.
The forum was held during the day and sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association (HLTA). The moderator was KITV6 News anchor Paula Akana. The forum was later carried from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. that evening on Me-TV digital channel 126. The purpose of the forum was to allow the candidates to express themselves on issues important to the visitor industry.
During the course of the hour, Paula Akana asked the participants what infrastructure issues important to supporting the visitor industry would they intend to focus on in office including for airports, ports and highways? They all responded with very vague statements about how they would follow in Senator Inouye’s example and seek federal funding for needed projects.
All three missed the boat with their answers as there are several important transportation issues at the federal legislative level that are important to the visitor industry specifically and the state generally.
There is of course the Surface Transportation Bill that includes funding for several Hawaii projects including Honolulu Area Rapid Transit (HART). The country needs a multi-year bill, but appears that at best a short term stop-gap measure will be passed this year.
Also for a state with nine commercial harbors on six islands, the participants should also have mentioned their position on the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT). The HMT is an ad valorem duty levied on imports and collected by Customs and Border Protection. The monies are deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) and are to be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain by dredging navigation channels and basins within the federal project lines. While HMT collections are increasing each year, Army Corps expenditures on dredging are decreasing, and the growing balance in the HMTF is approaching $7 billion.
Beginning in 2008, similar bills were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate known as Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) to address this problem by authorizing and instructing the Army Corps to utilize the funds in the HMTF for their intended purpose. (see http://www.ramphmtf.org/news.html)
Since then, different position have emerged among the various ports around the country who view the program according to their perspective, and these differences are reflected by their congressional delegations.
John, Ed and Mazie should have let us know their positions on the HMT.
Michael Hansen is the President of the Hawaii Shippers Council