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Ige talks transportation, marijuana, Native Hawaiian sovereignty after trip to Washington

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HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Thursday that he met with several of members of President Barack Obama's cabinet during his latest trip to Washington and talked about transportation funding, airports and Native Hawaiian sovereignty, among other topics.

Making it easier for international travelers to visit Hawaii was an idea Ige discussed with Anthony Foxx, secretary of transportation.

"Honolulu International is the fourth busiest port of entry for international travelers, and it really is at capacity," said Ige, referring to the airport. "If we can open a second port, or if we're successful in getting pre-clearance (for international visitors) into Honolulu International, it definitely will allow us to expand visitors."

Transportation funding is an issue facing all governors, especially with declining federal highway trust funds, Ige said. The federal highway trust fund is expected to be insolvent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, meaning there will be less money for highway maintenance and repairs.

In response to declining fuel-tax revenue, lawmakers in the Hawaii House are considering changing the way the fuel tax is calculated so that it could generate more revenue. The bill, HB 1486, would calculate the fuel tax based on an unspecified percentage of the wholesale price of the fuel, instead of the amount of fuel sold.

Ige said his staff is examining the proposal but hasn't yet reached a conclusion.

PHOTO: Hawaii Gov. David Ige talks with reporters at the capitol on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Honolulu. Ige had returned from a trip to Washington and said he was happy to trade overcoats for Aloha shirts. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)
Hawaii Gov. David Ige talks with reporters at the capitol on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Honolulu. Ige had returned from a trip to Washington and said he was happy to trade overcoats for Aloha shirts. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)

"Part of the challenge is until the entire trust fund is concluded, and we are certain of what the expected revenue stream from the federal government is, it's hard to determine what would be the appropriate tax level at the state level," he said.

Governors in all states are dealing with declining fuel tax revenues, in part because cars are more fuel-efficient and motorists are opting for electric and hybrid vehicles. That raises the question of how much those motorists should pay, Ige said.

On Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's push to extend the rail tax to complete Oahu's financially troubled rail project, Ige said he hasn't seen anything that would compel him to extend the tax this year.

"It's about the timing, and whether there is more due diligence that's required on the funding plan," Ige said. "And the fundamental question is: Why is it imperative that we extend the taxes in this session?"

On medical marijuana, Ige said that in order to support the legislative proposal to create a system of dispensaries, he would have to be sure there's funding and the ability to implement the plan in harmony with existing law.

But Ige said he isn't inclined to support marijuana decriminalization, which lawmakers in the Senate are considering. "I just think it gets confusing for our communities when the federal law is different from the state law," he said.

While in Washington, Ige also met with Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, who said the department is working on sorting out legal issues regarding whether Native Hawaiians could be federally recognized.

"I had expressed to her that I believe that it's very important that the Native Hawaiian community be given the time to determine what the nature of their sovereign nation should be," Ige said.

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