LIHU‘E — U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono says the president will speak to Congress on Thursday to make a bipartisan effort to move the economy.
Hirono was on island Friday to attend the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board fundraiser. She stopped by The Garden Island office to update residents on her work in Washington.
“What’s most important for everybody is jobs, in Hawai‘i as well as the rest of the country,” said Hirono, who represents the Neighbor Islands and rural O‘ahu.
Hirono said the president would be reminding both the House and the Senate that they should be focusing on job creation to get the economy going.
“They haven’t done that,” she said.
Hirono said she supports infrastructure investments as the first and most important way to foster immediate job creation and for long-term growth and economic benefit.
The congresswoman said she has advocated for such programs in the Transportation Committee, and said the economy has many of her colleagues returning to support bills relating to such programs.
Companies and corporations are not hiring because there is a lack of demand, Hirono said.
“How do you create more demand?” she asked. “You need people who are working, and that is why we need to create jobs.”
The lack of demand is a major limiting factor for corporations and Hirono said bills have passed that provide incentives for companies to hire people with tax breaks.
“But we know people are not going to hire even with incentives if there is no demand,” she added.
The congresswoman said she supports a bill for an Infrastructure Bank as a way to fund infrastructure projects and investment without immediate impact on the federal budget. She said Hawai‘i, like the rest of the country, has fallen far behind in maintaining and building its infrastructure.
For Kaua‘i, Hirono said infrastructural funds would go to harbor, airport and highway projects, along with bridges and repaving roads. From a community standpoint, she said she understands the need to retain the rustic charm of Kaua‘i but that all the counties are way behind on this serious issue.
O‘ahu is building a light rail line in Honolulu. She said Kaua‘i and the other islands need funding for more robust bus capacity. In past sessions she had these funds in earmarks because counties could not take on the expensive without federal support.
She also supports trails and bikeway systems and said Kaua‘i has done a better job on the coastal areas in this regard. The Kapa‘a shared-use path is being completed with the boost of federal money, she added.
Flexibility needed in meeting federal educational standards
Hirono, who also serves on the Education and Workforce Committee, said Hawai‘i is unique with its statewide school system. She said it is not perfect but that it works for Hawai‘i. She noted bulk purchasing and other efficiencies, and increased ability to ensure resources are allocated evenly.
The representative said it is still important to have decisions made at the local school and community level, especially to have input with how children in those areas can learn. But she said a school district system funded through local property tax levies would present inequities that are not fair to all Hawai‘i communities.
“I think that we should have national standards but there should be tremendous flexibility for schools to attain those standards,” she said. “Hawai‘i is one of those states that has voluntarily gone with national standards which the State of Hawai‘i helped to develop.”
Hirono is recognized as an advocate for quality early childhood education, and said Hawai‘i will apply for $50 million from the Early Learning Challenge Fund to provide alternative education in the state.
“I believe that the State of Hawai‘i should move toward universal pre-school,” she said. “It is moving in that direction with the Obama Administration making early childhood education a priority.”
Evidence-based education reform creates an opportunity for children to be in a quality preschool, Hirono said. These children are more likely to succeed in school and in life.
The congresswoman recently expressed her opposition to a House bill she fought in the Education and Workforce Committee. The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would allow school districts the option to take resources designated for low-income and other disadvantaged students, including English Language Learners.
In the healthcare realm, Hirono said the shortage of healthcare workers — whether physicians or nurses — is a priority need.
She also said Medicare and Social Security should remain intact.
Native Hawaiian recognition
Hirono said she supports the Akaka Bill that provides a process for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. She said the nation recognizes Alaska Natives and American Indians, and that Native Hawaiians are the third aboriginal group and the only that has not attained political recognition.
She said the bill is crucial to ensure more than 150 federal laws supporting Native Hawaiians in the areas of education, housing and healthcare would not be subject to legal challenges as unconstitutional.
There are Native Hawaiians that don’t support the Akaka Bill because they contend that Hawai‘i continues to be a sovereign nation. As with any group, she said the feelings on issues run the gamut but that supporters feel the Akaka Bill contains necessary provisions supporting they remain intact.
“I would say that most Native Hawaiians and people I’ve spoke to support the Akaka Bill,” she said. “I think it flows from a respect for Native Hawaiians, so regardless of where we are on the continuum of whether we support the Akaka Bill or not I believe that all of us are very respectful and mindful of the importance of the Native Hawaiians to the state of Hawai‘i.”