(BIVN) – As the Hawaiʻi County Council considered a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year during a meeting held on Thursday, some members of the public voiced their opinion on government actions in the time of COVID-19.
“It’s time for a shared responsibility, and that is from the leadership here,” said Robert Johnson, the owner of the Kona Seaspray vacation rental property on Aliʻi Drive.
Johnson was one of multiple testifiers to speak out during recent council meetings. Testimony is now being allowed at the council sessions, following a period of meetings that were closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns. The meetings were still livestreamed during that time.
Testifiers are required to speak in a room separate from the councilmembers and must “wear a protective mask that covers their mouth and nose, physically distance themselves from others, and sanitize their hands prior to entering the testimony site,” according to written rules.
Johnson testified, while wearing a mask: “Rarely do we have any leadership that says – ‘oh, let’s have a little pay cut. Let’s have a little shared responsibility here.’ Tax the rich is not the way to prosperity.” Johnson was referring to a County plan to increase taxes on certain, multi-million dollar residential properties on the Big Island.
“Modern day robin hood. Forget about it,” Johnson said. “Okay, that was a fantasy. It was a nice romantic tale. But playing robin hood is not going to get the job done here.”
The council on Thursday voted to approve Mayor Harry Kim’s proposed $585.1 million budget on first reading. The final reading of the budget will take place on June 4.
“You say we can’t go back to these union contracts,” Johnson testified. “Yes you can. You just have to have the backbone to stand up to the unions, and not worry about your jobs. Don’t worry about your pension. Get on board with the rest of us.”
“I spent the last week doing PPP, payroll protection plan,” a frustrated Johnson told the council. “Doing SBA. Filing for unemployment. I’m 68 years old, own a business. Successful. And I – for the first time in my life – I’ve got to go to unemployment. This is ridiculous.”
State officials on Thursday reported Hawai‘i’s unemployment rate stood at 22.3 percent in April. The historic increase from the revised rate of 2.4 percent in March reflects the economic impact of COVID-19 in Hawai‘i, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations explained. Across Hawaiʻi, 487,500 were employed and 139,000 unemployed in April for a total seasonally adjusted labor force of 627,450. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 14.7 percent in April, rising from 4.4 percent in March.
“You people need to get a grip,” Johnson told the council. “We have no cases on this island. You’ve completely panicked this island. Everybody’s wearing silly masks. I go to Costco. You’ve got everybody frightened. This is absolutely ludicrous.”
On Thursday, the same day Johnson testified, 3 new cases of COVID-19 were identified on the Big Island.
“All I can tell you: Be leaders. Lead. Take the lead in this,” Johnson said. “Get out there, get in the paper and say – ‘you know what, we need to pass a resolution stating that we’re going to take a 20% pay cut until this thing is under control.’ So, when you ask the people that have money, or the rich, to get in there, they will respect you. For the first time. Because you have no respect unless you get on board with the rest of us.”