You Can Have That Road, Alphonse … No! You Take It, Gaston!

You Can Have That Road, Alphonse … No! You Take It, Gaston!

CNBC’s recent rankings of “America’s Top States for Business” pegged Hawaii at #50 overall, despite a #1 rating for quality of life. One factor that led to Hawaii’s rock-bottom position was the condition of its roads and bridges. A big contributor to this state of affairs is that the State and counties aren’t clear on which roads they own, they don’t want to maintain them if they don’t know that they own them, and so there are a number of roads that are not getting maintained. Welcome to “Roads in Limbo.” When Hawaii was a kingdom, there were no counties; all roads belonged to the people through the sovereign. The counties were established in 1905, and while the counties were given certain rights and duties with respect to the roads in the following years, the division of roads into territorial and county highways did not happen until 1947. The law now defining state versus county highways, which dates back to 1963, refers to state highways as those acquired by or under jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, and county highways as all other public highways. The law also mentions private roads that are surrendered or dedicated to the government and clearly says that in that context the government’s legislative body (such as the county council) needs to accept the dedication before the government takes over the road. The big question left open by these provisions is what happens to roads that were never private, but were originally government roads. Is the State allowed to say, “Hey, county, this road is in miserable, substandard condition so it’s now yours, you...
And the Lowsman Trophy Goes to … Hawaii!!

And the Lowsman Trophy Goes to … Hawaii!!

You may have heard about Marcus Mariota, the “favorite son” from Hawaii who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and was then picked in the first round of the NFL draft. What you might not know is that there’s also a Lowsman Trophy, for the pro football player who is picked dead last in the draft. The player winning that trophy also gets the coveted title of “Mr. Irrelevant.” CNBC, the business news network, recently published its rankings of “America’s Top States for Business.” They score the 50 states on more than 60 measures of competitiveness, separated into 10 broad categories and then weighted based on how frequently each is used as a selling point when the states market themselves. This year the categories were workforce, cost of doing business, infrastructure, economy, quality of life, technology and innovation, education, business friendliness, cost of living, and access to capital. Hawaii was ranked #1 in quality of life. However, its scores in the nine other categories were either miserable or abominable, leading to an overall finish at #50, dropping one place from last year. We were ranked #50 in cost of living and cost of doing business, and #49 in infrastructure (just behind Rhode Island, last year’s Lowsman winner). Our highest rank in categories other than the one we aced was #36, for technology and innovation. One of the report’s authors observed that part of the problem is unavoidable. We are in the middle of the ocean, more than 2,000 miles away from the mainland and the bulk of U.S. resources. The same factors that make us an expensive place...
To Taxi or Ride-share?: Limiting Government’s Role

To Taxi or Ride-share?: Limiting Government’s Role

Across the nation, a “horizontal” battle between taxi cab companies and emerging ride-share networks such as Uber and Lyft is unfolding. Unfortunately, a profound “vertical” battle, can be overlooked – and that is the battle between the free market and government over-regulation. Asked where Grassroot stands, we are promoters of the free market. There are many heroes of the free market in the taxi industry who have struggled for decades to cut a path through government over-regulation. There are also emerging entrants to the market via ride-sharing who are seeking a place. Unfortunately, government regulation can be wielded as a tool to favor or oppose selected competitors. Legislators should, therefore, be urged to limit regulation to what is minimally necessary to ensure the public safety and welfare. And these regulations should then be applied equitably to taxi and ride-sharing companies and drivers. As a principle, government regulation should not be used to decide the contest between market competitors. After all, the consumer should be king, not the government. When the free market works to this end, competitive businesses become even more competitive, and consumers gain more and better...
Senate Transportation Committee Approves Interisland Ferry Resolution

Senate Transportation Committee Approves Interisland Ferry Resolution

On March 31st, the Grassroot Institute was one of several organizations to offer testimony on SCR 181, which would request the state Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an interisland ferry. Grassroot has been an advocate of a ferry system–which holds great economic potential for our islands. And now there’s good news. The Committee not only passed the resolution, but took into account the suggestions made by Grassroot and Michael Hansen of the Hawaii Shippers Council in expanding the scope of the study. Formerly, the resolution only considered the Washington State ferry as a model, but now it has been expanded to other possible jurisdictions as well. Given the promise and the significance of this endeavor, it’s important that this first analysis be a comprehensive one. The resolution does not, unfortunately, explicitly mention that the Department should also consider the possibility of requesting an exemption to the Jones Act build requirement in the acquisition of the ferry itself. However, that is an issue that should be covered by an inquiry into the costs and parameters of the vessel. As we work together to create a coalition in support of an interisland ferry, Grassroot will continue to advocate for best practices that can put the project on the path to success. The amended resolution reads: SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING AN INTERISLAND FERRY SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE FERRY SYSTEMS OPERATED BY WASHINGTON STATE AND OTHER JURISDICTIONS. WHEREAS, unlike other states, Hawaii does not enjoy the benefit of being linked to other states, cities, or towns via the federal interstate highway system or...
Grassroot Testimony on an Interisland Ferry

Grassroot Testimony on an Interisland Ferry

March 31, 2015   To: Senate Committee on Transportation Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Chair Sen. Breene Harimoto, Vice Chair   From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.   RE: SCR 181 — REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING AN INTERISLAND FERRY SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE FERRY SYSTEM OPERATED BY WASHINGTON STATE.   Dear Chair and Committee Members: The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SCR 181, which requests the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an interisland ferry system similar to that of Washington State. The creation of an interisland ferry system is one that would be of great benefit to Hawaii’s citizens, businesses, tourism industry, and overall economy. It demonstrates that when we work together to find effective solutions to improve our state’s economy, we can do great things. We would like to offer only two suggestions. First, that in order to give the idea the greatest scope for success, it should not be limited to the ferry system of Washington State, but be broadened to include other ferry systems that present a good model for Hawaii–such as the Alaska, New Zealand, and Australia/Tasmania ferries. In addition, we suggest that any feasibility study include an examination of whether the proposed interisland ferry would benefit from a limited Jones Act exemption allowing the purchase of ferries at best cost from shipbuilders in American-allied nations. Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments. Sincerely, Keli’i Akina, Ph.D. President, Grassroot Institute of...
Grassroot Testimony on The Rail Surcharge

Grassroot Testimony on The Rail Surcharge

March 19, 2015   To: Senate Committee on Transportation Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Chair Sen. Breene Harimoto, Vice Chair   Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Sen. Will Espero, Chair Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Vice Chair   From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.   RE: HB 134 — RELATING TO TAXATION   Dear Chair and Committee Members: The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comment on HB 134, which would permit all counties to adopt ordinances allowing for surcharges on state excise and use tax at a rate of 0.25%. This bill makes permanent and more wide-reaching a surcharge that was initially intended to be temporary, albeit at a slightly lower rate (for the time being). However, though a lower surcharge is a step in the right direction, we are concerned that the long term effect of raising the state excise tax is being overlooked. The nature of our state’s General Excise Tax already places Hawaii among the worst states for sales and user taxes. The 2014 ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index (otherwise known as Rich States, Poor States) ranks Hawaii 50th among all states for its sales tax burden, meaning that the GET contributes a significant negative effect to the state’s economic outlook.[1] The Tax Foundation ranks Hawaii 37th in state business tax climate, in part because of the GET (ranked 31st in their study). [2] At least one study of OECD countries has found that along with corporate and personal taxes, consumption taxes like the state excise tax can be economically harmful over the long-term.[3] In fact, economic theory recommends using...