WAIKAPU - The administration of Gov. Linda Lingle will try to keep the Hawaii Superferry afloat, but if the struggling ferry needs to restart its environmental review process, that would probably sink the interisland ferry in Hawaii, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said Tuesday.
"We are going to do everything we can to keep the Superferry in business," Aiona told around 100 people at the Condominium Council of Maui's annual luncheon at the Nahele Room at the Kahili Golf Course in Waikapu.
His comments came a day after the Hawaii Supreme Court threw out a law enacted in 2007 that allowed the ferry to operate without an environmental impact statement required by state law. The Superferry will stop trips between Maui and Oahu on Thursday.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona talks with Al Andrews (left), vice president of the Condominium Council of Maui, and Stephen Elisha, who is a member of the programs committee, before his talk Tuesday morning at the Kahili Golf Course in Waikapu.
Wailuku attorney Isaac Hall, who represents plaintiffs seeking a full environmental review of ferry harbor improvements, said Monday that an environmental study being conducted now by a private contractor for ferry operations is flawed and would need to be redone.
But, during his remarks to Condominium Council members, Aiona said that if the environmental review for the ferry were to restart, and it would be unable to operate in the interim, "I don't think the Superferry can be a viable business in Hawaii."
An audience member asked those who opposed the Superferry to raise their hands. No one did. But when he asked those who support the ferry system, the majority put their hands up.
"It's unfortunate where we are right now with the Superferry," Aiona said, adding that many in the room Tuesday have probably used the service.
He said he felt the Lingle administration did the right thing from the start to have the service in Hawaii.
"We felt we did everything right upfront," he added.
Aiona also discussed how the administration is coping with the state's budget shortfall, saying it has to again amend its budget after the Council of Revenues predicted another drop in state revenues last week. The panel found the state will have $260 million less to spend over this and the next two fiscal years.
Aiona reiterated Lingle's position that there will be no tax increases and no employee layoffs.
"We don't believe in raising taxes. No way, no how," Aiona said to applause.
Instead of layoffs, Aiona said perhaps there could be a "rollback" in salaries or have employees share in the costs of certain benefits they receive, such as health care.
"We want to keep the work force in place," he said.
Aiona, who has announced his candidacy for the 2010 governor's election, responded to members of the Legislature who said Lingle backed away from her promise to consider everything on the table when it came to dealing with the shortfall.
Some Legislators have recommended both layoffs and tax increases to deal with the shortfall. But Aiona said that Lingle - who must leave office because of term limits at the end of 2010 - did say that things could change.
He also opposed a number of state House of Representatives' proposals for balancing the budget. One of those included a House Finance Committee recommendation to cut 374 state jobs, including the director and deputy director of the state Department of Human Services. He compared it to Congress saying it would cut the Department of Health and Human Services in the federal government.
He added that the House also wants to increase taxes for those making at least $125,000 individually or a couples making $250,000 or more.
In responding to a question from the audience, Aiona said that even for those earning that kind of a money, raising taxes is "still a burden." People in that tax bracket tend to give donations to organizations such as nonprofits, he said.
Even with the shortfalls, Aiona said the administration will continue to "invest in our resources" and push its Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
The initiative aims to decrease energy demand and accelerate the use of renewable resources such as wind, sun, geothermal and bioenergy to meet 70 percent of Hawaii's energy demand by 2030.
"We want to keep our vision alive," he said, adding that the state will emerge from the "doldrums" at some point. "We want to make sure our resources are there."
Aiona said the federal economic stimulus money will help with the state's budget woes, but it is not a cure-all.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.