- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii gubernatorial candidates had tough questions for their opponents as they debated starting new public-private partnerships to address recurring problems and sparred over who would inflict less pain while balancing the budget.

Republican James “Duke” Aiona, Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann and Democratic state Sen. David Ige faced off in a televised debate on KITV4 on Tuesday.

The idea of partnering with businesses came up as a solution to solving a host of problems, including helping financially strapped public hospitals, managing housing development and updating Aloha Stadium.

Aiona and Hannemann said the state should find a private sector partner to rebuild the stadium. But Ige said that’s unrealistic because no company will build a facility in a state that has no professional sports teams.

“A new stadium can cost anywhere from $100 to $200 to $300 million,” Ige said. “And what schools are you going to shut down? What facilities?”

Hannemann and Aiona both hammered Ige for his role in the financial problems facing Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the state’s network of public hospitals.

Hannemann said Ige’s committee didn’t pass a bill in the past legislative session that addressed creating public-private partnerships.

“What happened, and why couldn’t you exert your legislative influence to move that bill forward?”

Ige said he had passed a bill more than four years ago that paved the way for public-private partnerships for the hospital system.

“Mr. Hannemann, you obviously don’t know the demands and responsibilities of the chair of ways and means,” Ige said. “I had 400 bills in conference committee, and clearly I cannot be driving every single one. It is about collaboration.”

On state finance, Ige accused Aiona of failing to balance the budget when he was lieutenant governor under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

“Duke, you said you’ve learned a lot from Gov. Lingle, and you were a heartbeat away from becoming governor,” Ige said. “There have only been two times in the history of the state of Hawaii that we’ve failed to balance the budget, and we ended in deficit the last two years of the Lingle-Aiona administration. How can people trust you with taxpayer dollars when you couldn’t balance the state’s checkbook?”

Aiona said that his input in regard to the governor’s initiatives and programs was just that, input.

“The accolades go to her, as well as the criticism,” Aiona said.

Aiona then accused Ige of raising spending by $1.2 billion and raising taxes to the tune of $800 million in the past four years while Ige was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

“And more importantly, we’re heading toward a catastrophe in 2016 because we may not be able to balance the budget in 2016 because of the … amount of spending that has been increased,” Aiona said.

Ige retorted that the Lingle administration’s solution was to stop paying its bills.

“Withholding payment from vendors or suppliers or the people of Hawaii are really not valid budget balancing methods,” Ige said.

Libertarian Party candidate Jeff Davis said he was not invited to participate in the debate.


Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbussewitz

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