Lawmakers cut Navigator money, questioning need and $9 mil consultant tab

Coronavirus

Lawmakers have eliminated funding for the “recovery navigator” who is supposed to be developing an economic reopening plan.

Gov. David Ige intended to set aside $10 million dollars in federal COVID relief money for the special appointee to carry out the mission. Lawmakers nixed that and came up with a different plan for how to spend the state’s portion of $1.2 billion in CARES Act money coming to Hawaii and the City & County of Honolulu. The governor tells KHON2 the navigator’s work is essential.

A budget plan showed most of the money in the governor’s outline — $9 million of the $10 million line item — would have gone to consultants. Hundreds of thousands would have gone to salaries for Alan Oshima and others.

Oshima was appointed over a month ago to lead a re-opening plan, something the state says is not yet ready to reveal.

“There really wasn’t a plan. The plan was to only pay for consultants,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee “The cost of the consultants was definitely a concern and the fact that a majority of that money would be going out of state. A major concern for us was we already have the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, and we have many agencies in that department that could already drive that effort.”

“Many of the members do believe that the economic recovery conversation needs to happen,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee. “We’re not really clear whether this is the right approach. “Because of some of the conflicting testimony from the administration we believe the best approach at this point is to eliminate those funds.”

The governor contends his office has the authority to spend the coronavirus relief funds as they see fit.

“The work of the navigator is essential for Hawaii’s recovery and I am committed to supporting the efforts,” Gov. David Ige told KHON2 in a statement after the lawmakers zeroed out the navigator money in their version of the spending plan.

As for where things stand with a recovery dashboard, lawmakers got a preview of a color coded readiness framework ranging from red to orange, yellow to green. They said they’d expected the governor to make it public by this week.

Luke and Dela Cruz said they took issue with the colors not corresponding to a written plan for what could be opened under such conditions.

“So for instance if you go to the Utah website it would tell you exactly what the level is for that day is and under that coding, what specific business can open and what scenario and what should be done,” Luke said. “In (Hawaii’s) situation I think there’s still a significant amount of confusion among businesses. The thing that we need to do is make it very clear to the public exactly what is open and what businesses are open and how it should be conducting its business otherwise there will be outliers who will go and test the limits and we don’t want those situations because those are the very situations that will lead to spread and outbreak.”

Always Investigating for weeks has been reporting on the lack of a comprehensive plan and resources for economic reopening. We asked again when that color-coded reopening framework and guidance will be released. We were told today by the Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center: “The guidelines are being reviewed and while no exact date, the hope is next week.”

The JIC added that meanwhile: “The State’s guidance for the reopening of businesses is in line with CDC guidance and we would direct inquiries to this website. It provides very specific information about everything each business sector needs to know as they contemplate and plan for re-openings. The guidelines we review are changing constantly, so we’re adjusting accordingly and daily.”

Always Investigating previously reported that Hawaii has already cleared multiple two-week segments of what the federal government called “gating” criteria for successive re-openings; based on the federal criteria, Hawaii could already have movie theaters and bars reopened.

The JIC responded today to our previous questions about the gating criteria from earlier in the week, saying: “The gating criteria you cite from the White House is merely guidance and in the State’s view, is not intended to supersede or supplement state or local decision making, based on what’s best for specific communities. This is already in play here in Hawaii as evidenced by differing opening schemes by county’s, based on what a particular Mayor believes is workable, best, and optimal for his island(s). Hawaii has taken a more conservative view than some other states that have reopened earlier and more broadly. As the Governor has stated from the beginning of this crisis, due to Hawaii’s unique geography, our economic reliance on the visitor industry, and our emphasis on always caring for our most vulnerable populations (kupuna, medically fragile, etc.) we are moving cautiously and deliberately in what to open or not. In addition to those business/industry sectors that have or will open soon, based on the governor’s 7th Supplemental Proclamation, it’s expected other segments will be announced soon. Overall, the health and well-being of Hawaii’s residents continues to be of paramount importance in alignment with the state’s economic recovery. Restoring our state’s economy is vital – Hawaii is making decisions in sequential fashion to ensure the infection curve stays flat over the long-term and businesses and industries are allowed to safely reopen with minimal chances of having to close again, because of a surge of infections. It is a difficult and tricky balancing act.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories