LIHUE — Gov. Neil Abercrombie was critical of the recent override of Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s veto of Bill 2491 when he spoke to the Lihue Business Association on Thursday.
“This GMO issue has been so, so dramatized that we don’t realize anything else is going on,” Abercrombie said. “I understand political drama, but I’m governing to the budget and the realities of what’s being done here.”
Abercrombie said his administration’s “Good Neighbor Program,” which will create voluntary standards and guidelines for restricted use pesticides reporting and buffer zones, is a more reasonable solution that the state can enforce.
The Kauai County Council voted 5-2 last Saturday to override the mayor’s veto of Bill 2491, and pass into law rules regarding genetically modified organisms and pesticide use on Kauai.
“Pesticides are regulated, as they should be, on the federal and state level,” Abercrombie said. “If that’s where you want to put your dollars then be my guest, but I don’t think it’s going to work and all the rhetorical finger pointing in the world isn’t going to change those realities.”
He said bills similar to Bill 2491 are a distraction from other issues that could also improve the agricultural industry, such as promoting Future Farmers for America efforts for island keiki and investing in aquaponics and hydroponic ventures.
“The problem with dealing with some real issues is that they tend to occupy all the space in the room,” Abercrombie said. “They tend to suck the oxygen out of the discussion about anything.”
During his three-hour visit to Kauai, Abercrombie discussed several issues, including dwindling funds for the island’s three public hospitals.
Within the next week, Abercrombie said his administration will release revenue bonds to install guardrails and fund shoulder improvements along Kuhio Highway.
The bonds, he said, would also fund improvements to Hale Opio’s administration building on Umi Street in Lihue and the Lihue Airport’s ticket lobby and holding room.
“The fact is that I think we can be assured and feel confident that the fiscal foundation of this state is in the best condition that it has ever been in the history of the state,” Abercrombie said. “I believe that budgeting to the bottom line is succeeding, so I feel very, very strongly that the opportunities for Kauai are solid.”
Abercrombie said his administration is also monitoring the financial stability of Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which operates Kauai Veterans and Samuel Mahelona Memorial hospitals, and working with company officials to find solutions to their woes.
In all, $7.3 million in emergency funds were earmarked during the Legislature’s special session to fund the health care system’s operations on Kauai until the spring, when HHSC officials said they would seek additional emergency appropriations from the Legislature.
Without the full amount of those funds, HHSC officials said at the time that local health care providers would stop receiving some needed supplies and be unable to make payroll by the end of the year.
“There is no way that this is going to continue,” Abercrombie said. “We simply cannot go to the Legislature year after year and say, ‘Well, we got to pump a cash infusion of money,’ and it’s not just on Kauai — don’t think you’re the lone ranger here or the outlier. This is happening on every island, including Oahu, where the rural hospitals are.”
Lihue Business Association member Dr. Neil Clendeninn said he appreciated Abercrombie’s thoughts on the island’s healthcare system and wants others to engage in that discussion.
“The communities really need to start getting involved with what’s going to happen with the health systems here — both the private as well as the public system,” Clendeninn said. “People really aren’t discussing that right now but we need to start because the state is losing money rapidly on its system and a lot of people go there for a number of different reasons.”