It was a Saturday morning in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, Macy's was having another "One Day Sale" and the farmers' market on Lipoa Street was selling delicious, organic fresh fruits and vegetables.
The upshot--only five interested citizens were able to find their way to the Kihei Charter School middle-school campus for the first community talk story session on Dec. 8 with state Rep. Kaniela Ing and his counterpart, veteran state Sen. Roz Baker, about upcoming legislative activities and their desire to hear what South Maui residents might want during that session.
Yet, the importance of the issues raised was not diminished by their lack of champions on that sunny day. Among the issues were changes in solar tax credits, the potential for a state budget deficit, the possibility of teachers being required to pay 100 percent of their healthcare benefit premiums, the emergence of state Rep. Joe Souki as speaker of the House, cybercrime, school bullying, the Legislature's award for having one of the best Websites in the nation to encourage legislative transparency and citizen participation, the potential date for opening of the new Kihei High School, same-sex marriage legislation and cameras at intersections to catch those who run red lights.
State Sen. Roz Baker said the Legislature is waiting for a decision by the state Supreme Court on a lawsuit brought before it on the same-sex marriage issue.
Gene Zarro raised the solar tax credit issue, saying, "Perhaps we are victims of our own success."
Sen. Baker said that no legislation to address the tax credits has been introduced, but she did note that there had been some abuses of the system, such as people putting solar on every room and then taking the state tax credit on each.
"The tax people got a hold of it, and that has stopped," she said.
Sen. Baker said that the state is not allowed to pass an unbalanced budget and that Hawai'i is not going to face a deficit.
"What we have to deal with," Sen. Baker said, "is unfunded liabilities--not only the pension fund, but also the health fund."
Rep. Ing commented on the potential for Maui to have control of the leadership in both the state House and the Senate, where Sen. Shan Tutsui has been re-elected to the position of Senate president.
He also informed the group that he would have a spot on the Finance Committee and also be vice-chair of the Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee. The committee will have influence over the discussion of a new jail on Maui to replace the existing aging and overcrowded facility in Wailuku.
Zarro spoke about the blurring lines between cybercrime and bullying. Cheryl Zarro said that the Kihei Charter School discusses the issue during their advisory time, but that the larger issue is one of funding to allow for more time to be spent specifically in this area. Sen. Baker wondered if part of the answer was to bring back the school peer-counseling programs that had proven effective in the past.
When the subject turned to the Kihei High School, Gene announced that Kihei Charter School was in the process of purchasing land for a permanent school site in the Maui Research and Technology Park area. Subsequently, the Maui Weekly has learned that the Charter School has signed the purchase papers and the contract was to be recorded on Thursday, Dec. 13.
When will the Department of Education's (DOE) high school open? Sen. Baker said her best guess is 2016. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed off with his approval of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Rep. Ing said, "I know the high school is a priority for the governor and DOE has put it on their budget request list."
Baker put the figure being requested at $130 million. She cautioned that the appropriation amount should not be taken for granted and watched every step of the way.
As the meeting ended, the question of legislation allowing same-sex marriage was raised. Sen. Baker said that the Legislature is waiting for a decision by the state Supreme Court on a lawsuit brought before it on the issue. At the moment, she did not know what will happen judicially or legislatively.
And what about cameras at intersections to catch those who run red lights? Sen. Baker said that Speaker-elect Souki has long been a proponent of the idea.
"It's against the law to run a red light," she said. "Maybe we should have some punishment with it."
The Legislature convenes on Jan. 16.