Continuing to foster an improving economy and ensuring the jobs being created stay on the Big Island are top priorities for Fred Housel, a Democrat seeking the state House District 6 seat.
With West Hawaii’s economy showing signs of improvement, Housel said he is looking forward to an array of projects commencing in the coming years. And, as those projects progress, Housel wants to ensure residents get the first shot at jobs being created because in some cases, Housel noted specifically the Saddle Road and Ane Keohokalole Highway projects, jobs are not going to residents, but instead to mainlanders.
“There are a lot of things on the horizon that are going to happen soon and a good portion of the unemployed here will find work,” Housel said noting specific projects such as the Villages at Kamakana, a community center at Laiopua, Hawaii Community College at Palamanui and the West Hawaii Judiciary Complex.
If elected to represent residents in the area spanning from Lako Street to Kona Village, Housel said he would like to introduce legislation of some form to encourage developers and construction companies hire residents before looking to mainland workers.
“There have been a lot of people brought from the mainland to work the jobs here,” Housel explained. “I want to try to convince them to hire locally first before going to the mainland.”
Housel will face Kalei Akaka, Bucky Leslie and Nicole Lowen in the upcoming Aug. 11 primary election for the Democrat ticket. The district features no incumbent following the state’s reapportionment process.
Another concern Housel hopes to address, if elected, is to ensure the island’s infrastructure is not only up to speed, but also ready for future growth. Housel said he hopes to work with the state Department of Transportation to get things right the first time to avoid repeated delays, such as those that occurred in the second phase of Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening.
“I envision once we get through this economic downturn, the growth will resume, so we need to start focusing on infrastructure now,” he said. “We, the community and the DOT, need to partner and help each other.”
To reduce Hawaii’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy production, transportation and other needs, like fertilizer, Housel pointed to increasing geothermal production, which could lead to generating hydrogen for vehicles and making ammonia for fertilizers.
He would also like to see a program where people can pay for photovoltaic systems on their electricity bill.
Housel said he firmly supports increasing geothermal energy production on Hawaii Island.
Funding such development would likely rely on a public-private partnership between the state and private developer, he added.
“So long as it meets the provisions for public safety and we respect all laws of environmental protection it can be done,” he said.
Housel also has ideas on how to help the Department of Education improve the state’s public education system, including decentralization to give local school administrators the authority to make decisions, and evaluating whether those administrators, as well as teachers, are performing up to par.
To address school busing issues, Housel would like to see legislation requiring more than one bidder before the state awards a contract, staggering of school start and end times for the most effective use of buses and having students nearby walk or bike to school.
As for taxes, Housel said he does not support an increase in the general excise tax. He said before any tax increase is considered, the state needs to find areas where cost-saving measures can be implemented.
He also said user fees should be assessed, as long as they are reviewed every two years and match the cost of the service being rendered.