Rep. Fontaine Briefs Rotary on Maui Issues
By Susan Halas
“Money and lack of it” will be the main issue in the Hawaii Legislature this year, according to state Rep. George Fontaine.
Last week the Kihei Republican briefed members of the Valley Isle Sunset Rotary Club on issues of interest to Maui voters. The club met at Denny’s in Kahului on Thursday, January 12. Members heard Fontaine review past legislative activities and preview things to come in the 2012 session opening January 18.
Fontaine, who represents South Maui’s 11th House District (Kihei, Wailea, Makena), is a self-described “fiscal conservative.” In rapid succession he told the Rotarians: “You’ll have to give more and expect less; our emergency funds are gone and both Moody’s and Fitch’s have downgraded Hawaii’s bond rating.
He also warned that lowered projections by Hawaii’s Council of Revenues could pack a wallop. The council which projects the figures that lawmakers use to make appropriation recently revised their estimates downward by 3%. “Each percentage point is valued about $40 million, so if they’re right, three points means $120 million less coming in,” he said.
“There is no money tree,” he continued, pointing to Hawaii’s state debt of over $11 billion – or about $25,000 for every Hawaii voter.
Fontaine told his audience that one of the most contentious issues in the last session was the attempt to tax the pensions of senior citizens. He said in the beginning only Republicans were against this measure, but due to aggressive lobbying by AARP and other groups, an increasing number from both parties voiced opposition. In the end, he said, the proposal died when it failed to come out of committee.
Fontaine hasn’t found it difficult to be a Republican in a state legislature dominated by Democrats. For example, he and Maui state Senator Roz Baker (D), West Maui, are co-sponsoring a measure to allow teachers to have better access to classroom supplies by authorizing a modified form of debit cards to simplify payment.
But not all his comments were love notes to the Democratic majority:
“You might have noticed how steeply your vehicle registration fees have gone up,” he commented. “The Democrats told you that money is earmarked for highway improvement, but what really happens is it gets siphoned off into the general fund.”
In addition to opposing raids on special funds (a practice that is likely to continue), Fontaine advocated other changes unlikely to be approved by the majority such as: 48 hour notice on decision making, 2/3 vote on measures requiring a hike in fees paid by the public and advance disclosure on the price tag for proposed legislation.
He also thinks it time to have a sunset review on the countless state boards, agencies and commissions. ”Do we really need them all?” he asked.
Not all the issues that came to his attention were directly related to pending legislation:
One topic that sparked a lot of controversy in South Maui was the Maui Electric proposal to erect a series of 70 foot metal transmission towers along the Pi’ilani Highway. If build they would obscure the ocean view.
Fontaine reported that at a recent informational meeting area residents turned out in large numbers to say “loud and clear that’s not wanted here. Our people in Kihei are very vocal and they have no problem showing up,” he said.
Whatever their interests, Fontaine urged Mauians to keep in touch with their legislators and let them know their views.
As for his own accomplishments during his first year in office, Fontaine pointed to new Civil Defense sirens in Makena. ‘They should be working this week,” he said.