Hawaii Updates: Legislature Reconvenes Monday To Deal With $1B Shortfall; Case Count Up By 3

May 7, 2020

Updated: 5/7/2020, 12:06 p.m.

Hawaii legislative leaders announced today that lawmakers will convene on Monday to deal with a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi said the session may last from 6 to 10 days.

While there is a risk of asymptomatic carriers, Kouchi said there be social distancing measures in place and symptom checks of legislators and staff prior to their taking flights and on entering the state Capitol. They will not be subject to COVID-19 tests.

Traveling lawmakers will be exempt from the mandatory 14-day quaratine to speed the Legislature's return to work.

The estimated $1 billion hole in revenues from sources like the general excise tax represents aboout 6% of the state's spending. 

Counties reopening low-risk businesses on different days

While some nonessential businesses like retail stores and shopping malls can reopen their doors on Kauai and Hawaii Island today, Maui County plans to hold off until Monday and the City and County of Honolulu will wait until May 15.

That patchwork of reopening dates follows Gov. David Ige's latest emergency proclamation that allows more low-risk businesses to restart operations right away as the number of new COVID-19 cases falls to single digits.

Today proved a bit too soon for Maui and Oahu, however. 

 

Maui's Monday reopening date aims to give businesses time to call back workers and get ready to open their doors. Oahu's delayed reopening date allows retailers and shopping malls to get ready to restart under social distancing and other safety guidelines.

 

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino says it was a misunderstanding between the governor and the county that caused confusion over when businesses could reopen.

 

“I think have explained it was a miscommunication," said Victorino during an online media briefing yesterday. "I think we discussed different aspects, but I think there was a misunderstanding. It happens. It happens at all levels. It happens at home. It happens at work. It happens all over. So I'm not going to belabor the point. We have made a commitment to try to make sure that doesn't happen again, and be more specific in our communication, especially as these changes ... are occurring.”

 

Gov. David Ige said he is “in alignment” with all of the state’s mayors, just a day after he pulled back from the statewide relaunch of the retail stores and other businesses.

The governor said it's fine with him that Maui and Oahu have set different dates for the reopening.

“All of us are sharing information and looking to be aligned as best as we can and I do believe that we are aligned in the activities and the businesses that we would allow to be opened," the governor said.

"Clearly, the state order just enables activities and businesses ... to start, but they are not required to start. They can begin operating at the time that they are ready to do that. And we do understand that every county is different and so our process does allow each county to consider the conditions that they see in their community and make nuanced changes as appropriate." 

More information on which Maui busineses can reopen and under what conditions will be posted on the county’s website.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro and Bill Dorman

 

Visitors won't be allowed to rent cars

       

Rental car companies will be prohibited from renting vehicles to visitors who are subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine under Gov. David Ige's latest emergency order.

 

In his daily video briefing yesterday, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said the governor added the provision to the quarantine requirement for all incoming travelers.

 

Violations of the quarantine are misdemeanors that can subject a visitor to a fine of up to $5,000 and a year in jail.

 

 

Yesterday's Hawaii Updates: Retail Reopenings Delayed On Oahu, Maui; Kauai Ends Curfew; Case Count Up 1

"We are still learning the details of this new rule, but according to law enforcement, if a quarantined visitor is found in a rental vehicle, both the driver and the rental company are subject to the citation," Kawakami said.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said essential workers could still rent vehicles to get to their job sites and to return to their lodgings to continue their quarantine. But visitors and those who are traveling for nonessential reasons cannot rent vehicles for now, "keeping them off the road and from going into areas they shouldn't."

Green says it may be time for unrestricted interisland travel

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says now that Hawaii has flattened the curve, it may be time to restart even more activities, such as unrestricted interisland travel and small beach gatherings.

"I don’t have any concerns about interisland travel. I feel like that could resume safely today and it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. We’ve had just a small number of cases, in fact, in some ways more cases on the Neighbor Islands than on Oahu because of the hotspot on Maui and hot spot on Kona," he said.

 

"So I'm not particularly worried. I’m worried about having adequate policy for the hundreds of thousands of travelers that ultimately will return to Hawaii."

 

The state has only about 70 active confirmed cases of coronavirus. That means roughly 90 percent of infected people have already recovered.

Those promising numbers, and with hospital capacity still at an all-time low, the lieutenant governor is confident Hawaii can safely reopen locally.

But he says the state would need a tiered safety system if visitors begin returning to Hawaii in larger numbers. And that could be as early as mid-summer.

"When tourism resumes sometime in the summer, if we don't have good precautions like the layered approach and preferably a test for people, we could see a very quick uptick," Green said. "I've had our team do some modeling, and just 10 weeks after a modest reentry [of] 20%, we could see significant crises in our hospitals if we're not careful. So we have to definitely have mitigating protections in place."

 

That could include testing tourists before they enter the state and staying in communication with them throughout their stay. 

But Green says the last and potentially most important protection is making sure hospitals can handle a surge in coronavirus cases, if one should ever occur.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

City offers installment plan for property tax payment

The city is expecting a $130 million shortfall in its 2021 fiscal year budget. But Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell hopes to give real property owners some relief under a new tax payment program this fall.

The mayor yesterday announced that all property owners are eligible to pay off their August property taxes over the course of four months.

He hopes the new monthly installment program will provide a break for Honolulu residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic -- but property taxes still need to be paid, even during tough times. 

"These real property taxes go to help pay for our police, our fire department, our public facility maintenance groups, housing and homeless initiatives, TheBus and HandiVan, and many other functions," the mayor said. "And without it, we cannot provide the critical core services. And yet, we know that in times of emergency, in crisis, we have need to try to work with the public in terms of the challenges of paying real property taxes."

City Budget Director Nelson Koyanagi says taxpayers will receive coupons with their property tax bill, whether they are experiencing hardship or not.

"If they decide to pay installments or pay it monthly, they can use the coupons to pay the monthly amount, and basically have your semi-annual tax payment divided by four," Koyanagi said. "The first one would be due on August 20th, which is the normal due date, and then on September 20th, October 20th and November 18."

City Council Budget Chair Joey Manahan says his committee is still finalizing work on the city’s operating and capital improvement budgets for the next fiscal year. He says they’ve had to trim the administration’s budget plan because of COVID-19.

"We had to adjust it about $130 million, because of the loss in revenues -- mainly from vehicle weight tax, to people not paying the registration – we deferred having to pay vehicle registration. Also we’re not collecting as much in parking fees," Manahan said.

Koyanagi says he has made several recommendations to the committee to balance the city budget.

"We actually made about $130 million in expense reductions from the original budget. And primarily from the transportation department – they took the biggest hit. So we looked at rail operations, and we reduced the rail operations budget a little bit," he said.

The council committee will discuss the new tax installment program and the city’s budget at its meeting next week.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Selected state parks reopening

As new COVID-19 cases drop to single digits, Gov. David Ige is easing the restrictions that had closed the state parks.

Some of those locations are reopening with social distancing measures in place. Still, some of the most popular parks will remain closed. 

“There are several very popular parks such as Diamond Head State Monument that will remain closed because there are areas where social distancing isn't possible, areas ... where really the attraction is lookouts or picnic tables, the gathering places or places where people congregate," said State Land Board Chair Suzanne Case.

Case said where the six-foot social distancing recommendation is difficult to enforce, the state is keeping those areas closed. 

"But the Department of Health did advise us that -- and this is actually very good news for all of us -- that as long as people are on a trail moving past each other, even if they're within six feet of each other and not wearing a mask ...we wouldn't characterize those persons as anything but low risk at most and likely no risk.”

A list of the state parks that are reopened and their safety requirements can be found on the Department of Land and Natural Resources website

Two museums plan for operations in age of COVID-19

 

Cultural institutions and arts nonprofits across the board are suffering the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown, while planning for the new reality of social distancing. In Honolulu, two major institutions have taken different routes on the journey toward reopening.

 

About a month after closing its doors due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Honolulu Museum of Art announced all part-time and temporary staff had been laid off, along with about a third of the full time staff.

 

Executive Director Halona Norton Westbrook, who started the job in January, says rehiring and devising more intimate, individualized experiences are in the plan.

 

"So that you get your time [in] the galleries, you have your time creating art. So to really think anew about the whole visitor experience and what that might look like specifically geared toward individuals and smaller groups."

 

The Honolulu Museum is looking at opening in some form on July first.

 

Collections are at the heart of both the Honolulu Museum and Bishop Museum.

 

Bishop Museum President and CEO Melanie Ide says they are maintaining staff and internal operations for the near future, thanks to a nearly $1.5 million dollar CARES Act grant.  As the repository for the Hawai'i biological survey, and home of the Pacific Science Information Center, among other things, a lapse in operations would have broad repercussions.

 

"We have an incredible cultural collection, but our scientific collection, including our DNA specimens, they're essential. They can't be put at risk."

 

Bishop Museum is looking forward to more events on their Big Lawn and across the campus when they reopen.

 

Hear more about plans going forward at the Honolulu Museum of Art and Bishop Museum, tomorrow, at 11 a.m., on the Aloha Friday verision of The Conversation on HPR1 and streaming on hawaiipublicradio.org and the HPR mobile app.

 

--HPR's Noe Tanigawa

 

Where Hawaii stands

Hawaii has three additional coronavirus case for a count of 629, the state health department reported today. The death toll stands at 17. 

Hawaii has seen single-digit increases in daily cases for over the past two weeks, continuing a "flattening of the curve" that is spurring the reopening of the state. 

Oahu's case count is now at 408, Maui County at 116, Hawaii County at 74, and Kauai at 21. Ten were diagnosed out of state.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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