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Lahaina aid should be about quality, not quantity, Helton says

It’s looking like the state is going to be spending a lot more than it expected to help victims of last year’s Maui wildfires, especially in Lahaina, which in turn is raising many questions about where the money is going to come from.

But according to Grassroot Institute of Hawaii policy researcher Jonathan Helton, speaking Feb. 22 with host Rick Hamada on NewsRadio 830 KHVH, the bigger question is: What are the funds going to do to make life better for the people who’ve been displaced?

Helton said providing such aid “might be happening, but … it’s certainly not clear to me that stuff [in Lahaina] is getting a lot better.”

“There’s not been a lot of transparency” regarding how wildfire relief funds are being spent, he said, and “some sort of review once the dust settles … would be absolutely essential.”

Sharing that information with the people who are supposed to be benefiting from this is the most important thing, he said, “but it would certainly help if everyone else in the public knew what their money was going toward as well.”

State lawmakers seem tempted to raise taxes to increase revenues, Helton said, but he cautioned against that, saying: “The state’s economy is not in the best shape following the fires, and if all of these tax hikes are going to be implemented, you’re probably going to see effects on the economy that are going to ripple throughout the business sector — and that’s a tradeoff that lawmakers really have to consider before they decide to pass any of these.”

Helton said the state could grow its economy by reducing taxation instead, or by reducing regulations. Considering the current budget crunch, however, he said cutting regulations is probably the most feasible.

Helton also talked with Hamada about the need to lift zoning regulations, and the positive changes Maui and Honolulu lawmakers are looking to make in that regard. He lamented that even during an emergency, it’s virtually impossible to build new housing quickly.

To listen to the entire 15-minute conversation, click the image below.

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