At a talk on Maui, Governor Lingle said if she could she would bring back the Hawaii Superferry. “Lingle said she’s been in recent contact with the ferries’ builder, Austal, which is considering military contracts for the high-speed vehicle transports.” Lingle also said she supports the development of “science cities” on Haleakala and Mauna Kea, both sites that are threatened by military space research.
Updated at 7:51 a.m., Saturday, September 5, 2009
Downturn offers opportunity, Lingle says
By CHRIS HAMILTON
The Maui News
WAILEA, Maui – Gov. Linda Lingle told the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce on Friday that the economic downturn provided Hawaii with a chance to focus on alternative energy sources rather than continuing to rely on fossil fuels.
Her administration has and will continue to pursue new business opportunities in order to diversify the state’s tourism-based economy, she said in a wide-ranging discussion.
Lingle was the keynote speaker at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa during the chamber’s third annual “Business Fest.” The Republican governor who is nearing the start of her last year in office also addressed topics from the Superferry; to looming deficits in county budgets; to the message given by economist Leroy Laney on Maui on Thursday that the recession is probably over.
Lingle said she agreed with Laney, who is an adviser to First Hawaiian Bank and professor at Hawaii Pacific University, saying the economic recovery will take time.
“Of course, we want it to be a quick recovery,” Lingle said to a mostly receptive crowd of about 150 people who twice gave her standing ovations. “But we have opportunities with this gradual recovery. It gives us time to decide what we are for as well as what we are against.
“Shame on us” if Hawaii emerges in the same position it was in prior to the recession, she said.
During the course of the past two years of economic decline, Lingle said, her administration has been able to set new priorities for Hawaii’s economy and Maui’s. She identified those as energy security and education, including retraining laid-off workers for “the new economy.”
Hawaii exports $7 billion a year, mostly to foreign nations, by importing 97 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, Lingle noted. Her vision would convert the state to 70 percent clean energy sources, such as solar, wave, biofuels and wind power, in just one generation, she said.
She predicted that the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce will only continue to gain influence in the coming years as developers and entrepreneurs seek the group’s advice and endorsements. For instance, she said a massive public-private wind farm planned for Molokai will need the blessing of Native Hawaiian groups in order to create infrastructure, such as an underwater power line between Molokai and Oahu.
Lingle also said she supports the proposed advanced technology solar telescope at Science City on Haleakala and a similar telescope project on the Big Island, both of which combine to cost more than $2 billion to build but have encountered opposition from some Native Hawaiians who view the gigantic telescopes as eyesores encroaching on extremely significant spiritual places.
However, the Maui telescope alone will create 100 construction jobs and dozens of permanent staff drawn from the local population – who will receive more than $40 million worth of education, Lingle said.
“If you’re not for a project like this, than what are you for?” Lingle said.
Otherwise, Maui will continue to be stuck relying on tourism, with the same ups and downs, she said.
A few audience members could be seen quietly rolling their eyes at the apparent lecture from Lingle.
As she delivered a message encouraging positivity, the governor also managed to take a few jabs at the policies of her political opponents in the Legislature and local government. She called the legislature’s effort to raise the hotel tax rate counterproductive when occupancy rates are their lowest on record.
And she was also critical of Maui’s “show me the water” ordinance, which requires new developments to provide their own water sources. She lumped it with the county’s work force housing legislation, which requires developers to build affordable housing to accompany their luxury home projects.
The combined result has been a lack of new real estate investment in Maui, she said.
Proponents have said the ordinances are necessary so working families can afford to live on Maui.
It could take Maui longer to recover than the other islands, the former Maui County mayor said, since decades ago it positioned itself successfully as a high-end, exclusive island.
“I still feel that that was the right decision,” she said.
Lingle called on audience members to speak out in favor of issues they support rather than engage in opposition politics and lopsided protests.
The governor also took a few moments to address her ongoing and undecided battle with the public employees’ unions. She said if they had accepted her offer for weekly furloughs months ago, the employees wouldn’t be facing layoffs, now said to be in the thousands.
“We could have rectified this situation long ago,” Lingle said.
With the most recent state budget forecasts, the state is facing a nearly $1 billion shortfall. Maui County did not have to cut its budget significantly for the 2010 fiscal year.
However, Lingle said that since county property value appraisals often lag as long as 18 months behind state tax revenue forecasts and collections, she predicted that Maui County will have serious deficits soon, likely in the next two fiscal years.
Shortly after the speech, Maui County Managing Director Sheri Morrison said she agreed with Lingle’s dire predictions.
“She right,” Morrison said. “We will have to face up to those facts.”
During Lingle’s question-and-answer period, she was asked what she thought of Hawaii Superferry’s prospects. The interisland ferry left the islands and went bankrupt months ago after a judge ruled that Lingle and the Legislature hadn’t properly followed environmental law in pursuing the more than $350 million investment here.
Luncheon emcee Ron Vaught asked Lingle about the status of Superferry.
She said, “If I could, I would” bring it back. The two completed ferries now sit at a shipyard in Maryland. Lingle said she’s been in recent contact with the ferries’ builder, Austal, which is considering military contracts for the high-speed vehicle transports.
In the meantime, the state will “carry on” and work to complete the required environmental impact statement. Superferry was good for business, and the majority of people wanted it, she said.
Lingle called the lack of political leadership in support of Superferry “pathetic,” and said there were severe consequences as a result. The Alakai ferry was good for businesses that quickly embraced it as an affordable and fast way to ship goods between Maui and the state’s population center, Honolulu, she said.
Superferry critics, many of whom are Maui Democrats, said Lingle tried an end-run around environmental law by allowing the ferry to operate between Maui and Oahu without a completed EIS. The island risked potential cultural, traffic and environmental impacts because of the ferry system, they’ve said.
Lingle concluded the hourlong talk with a question about her political ambitions after she leaves office at the end of 2010. Lingle said she is too preoccupied with Hawaii’s current problems and has no plans now to run for another office.
“I just have to stay focused on what I’m doing now,” Lingle said.