WAILUKU - Hawaii's recent shifts in political leadership - in Congress and at the state Capitol - heighten the need for Maui County to partner with state government to ensure continued services and to foster economic growth, state Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young told the newly seated Maui County Council.
"Never before has there been such a dire need or desire to better engage the state and counties in collaboration. In fact, the future of some currently existing government services - either at this county or the state level - may depend upon it," Young said.
"Developing these collaborative and coordinated approaches between government-to-government relationships (will help) implement projects in a more efficient way and makes most sense for taxpayers," he said.
Maui County Council members pose after being sworn in Wednesday in the Council Chambers. Shown are: (front row from left) Gladys Baisa, Elle Cochran, Stacy Crivello, Bob Carroll; (back row) Mike Victorino, Don Guzman, Mike White, Riki Hokama and Don Couch.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Young, who previously served as Maui County's budget director, was the keynote speaker at an inauguration ceremony Wednesday morning, where the council's nine members took the oath of office.
Before a standing-room-only crowd in the Council Chambers, Young painted a picture of a fragile local economy that would benefit from a closer working relationship between the state and county.
He noted that federal funding will be impacted as Hawaii has gone from having the most seniority in representation in Congress to the least, "literally overnight," with the recent death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and the retirement of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
Inouye's death triggered the appointment of Brian Schatz by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the seat, which in turn led to the naming of Maui legislator Shan Tsutsui - formerly president of the state Senate - as lieutenant governor.
Young said the threat of federal spending cuts, delayed but not averted by this week's "fiscal cliff" deal, would hit the pockets of residents and visitors alike. And congressional budget cuts to the Department of Defense alone would especially hurt Hawaii, where military expenditures account for more than 21 percent of the state's gross domestic product, he said.
At the state level, economists have forecast moderate tax revenue growth in coming years that won't keep pace with the growing costs of government services.
"That rate of growth is insufficient to sustain the current levels of public services that are currently being provided by government," he said.
Young urged county officials to increase funding for capital improvement projects to help boost the construction industry. He also encouraged eliminating "excessive, bureaucratic processes" that can hinder projects.
He noted the planned Kihei high school as an example of a state project that could benefit from cooperation with the county to move ahead with land-use approvals.
Abercrombie's proposed state budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $130 million for the Kihei campus, which Young said represents the single-largest CIP project in the governor's budget.
He said the addition of a Maui-based lieutenant governor's office under Tsutsui should help facilitate a close working relationship with the state and noted that Maui is well represented in the governor's Cabinet.
Young also encouraged county officials to be open to potential public-private partnerships, such as with billionaire Larry Ellison, the new owner of most of the island of Lanai.
He also mentioned a previously proposed public-private approach to operating the Maui Memorial Medical Center, which now falls under the state's Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Young said the state cannot financially support its portfolio of hospitals at adequate levels.
"That is not a good context for the future of Maui's only true, full-service hospital," he said. "Our community needs to speak out about this, or any other opportunity to improve or increase the level of health care and the quality of life in our community."
He concluded by saying: "As the new era for Hawaii begins, let us always recognize that there are a lot of positives that can be built upon in moving forward."
Earlier in the program, Tsutsui addressed the group, noting that he personally knows each of the council members and is confident they can hit the ground running.
"I believe that this new council . . . is not only capable, but very prepared to make those tough decisions that will have a lasting impact on all of our lives," he said. "I'm sure that these nine council members are ready and have plans to tackle the many different issues before them."
Tsutsui said he's seen how Maui County's elected officials can work together with other government officials to "parlay our small numbers into a large influence on a lot of the decisions that happen at the state."
The event also included performances by Na Hoku winner Raiatea Helm, who was raised on Molokai, and Kealoha, poet laureate of Hawaii.
Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata performed a Hawaiian blessing for the council members with a chant about the Kamaole area in South Maui.
He explained that the oli speaks of Kamaole as a Kona storm recedes.
"I hope it helps to focus and lighten the load that you'll be carrying for the next couple of years," Pata said.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.