Thursday | January 19, 2017
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Hirono: Improving infrastructure can pay big dividends

Mazie Hirono sees long-term benefits in improving state infrastructure.

Hirono is seeking the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s open U.S. Senate seat. With a still-slow economy hindering job growth, Hirono said she sees infrastructure projects as one way to create jobs while improving roads, harbors and airports.

One example, she said, is work she did to help fund repairs to the Hamakua ditch.

“One of the basic needs (for agriculture) is water,” Hirono said.

She also supported research for agricultural endeavors that also help support the island’s farmers.

She said she would like to see the state have more food sustainability.

Hawaii’s remote location makes it particularly dependant on the Jones Act to protect and preserve shipping to the state, Hirono said.

“We rely on reliable shipping to come to Hawaii,” she said. “We’re off the beaten track.”

The Jones Act is important from a national security standpoint, she said, and is important because Jones Act ships comply with U.S. labor laws.

The act leads to the employment of about 10,000 people in Hawaii, Hirono said, citing the Department of Labor.

To protect Social Security, Hirono said she would like to see the federal government remove the cap on how much income is taxed for Social Security purposes. Right now, only a person’s income up to $110,000 is taxed, Hirono said, which is something many Hawaii residents do not realize.

Getting rid of the cap can protect Social Security for another 75 years, she added.

Cuts or changes to the program, particularly to benefits retirees have been promised, is not the way to address the situation, she said, especially because it wasn’t Social Security that contributed to the county’s budgetary woes.

Cutting programs isn’t the only way to balance the budget, despite what the country’s Republicans are saying right now, Hirono said.

“We need a balanced approach,” she said.

She proposed getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans. That will save $830 billion over the next 10 years, she said. Looking for and getting rid of “fraud and waste” in Medicare can save another $600 billion over the next decade, while ending tax cuts for the oil industry will save $41 billion in the next 10 years.

Hirono said she supports increased Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements not just to Hawaii’s doctors, but across the country. That was something she said supporters of the Affordable Health Care Act were trying to do with the broad health plan.

She has crossed party lines, working with Republicans on Native Hawaiian issues and to get another $6 million annually for Hawaii’s airports as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual reauthorization bill.

“What I want is for (Republicans) to vote with me,” she said.

Hirono was a sponsor of the Visit USA bill, which would ease restrictions for Chinese visitors to come to the U.S. for vacations. She noted her work on a measure now in place that added South Korea as a visa-waiver country to come to the United States.

Reports estimate 300,000 Chinese tourists could come to Hawaii annually, compared with just 100,000 now. They could spend enough to create 6,000 jobs here, she said.