Hawaii governor to extend traveler quarantine past June

May 29, 2020 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Thursday said he would extend the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers arriving in the state beyond June 30.

The state mandated the quarantine beginning on March 26 to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor told a joint online press conference held with the state’s four county mayors that an official announcement on the extension would be made later.

Ige said he’s been working with the mayors on lifting a separate 14-day quarantine requirement for people traveling between Hawaii’s islands. He said a decision would be coming within the next few days.

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he wants to make sure steps are taken to control the virus.

“I’m willing to open up with necessary safeguards to prevent spread between islands,” Victorino said.

The pandemic has bludgeoned Hawaii’s economy, triggering what University of Hawaii economists called “the sharpest and deepest economic downturn in the state’s modern history.”

Hawaii instituted a stay-at-home order and closed dine-in restaurants, shopping malls and other businesses in March to slow the spread of the virus. The state then followed with the traveler quarantine, which effectively shut off the flow of visitors who fuel the state’s biggest industry, tourism. Unemployment hit 22.3% in April, among the highest rates in the country.

The number of travelers arriving in Hawaii fell to 4,564 last month compared to 856,250 in April 2019, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said. That’s a 99.5% decline.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization predicted in a new report the state’s gross domestic product will shrink 11.1% this calendar year as spending by travelers plunges 65%. This estimate is based on a calculation that tourists will begin to return to the islands in late July.

A more pessimistic forecast, based on tourists not returning until late September, predicts a 12.9% decline in GDP this year and a 73.5% drop in visitor spending.

The state is also facing a sharp decline in tax revenue.

The Council on Revenues, which forecasts tax revenue for the governor and Legislature, on Thursday predicted general fund tax revenue would drop 7% during the fiscal year ending June 30. It expects that to be followed by a 12% drop the subsequent fiscal year.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said after the forecast was released that she hopes the state will be able to avoid “massive reductions” to the budget given work lawmakers have already undertaken to achieve savings like eliminating vacant positions and taking money from special funds.

Her counterpart in the Senate, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, said some “strategic cuts” would need to be made. He also expressed hope the Ige administration would borrow money from the Federal Reserve’s new municipal liquidity facility to cover some of the shortfall. Congress may also appropriate additional aid to states beyond the coronavirus relief funds already awarded, he said.

Lawmakers plan to reconvene in mid-June to work further on the budget.

Council on Revenues member Jack Suyderhoud, a University of Hawaii professor emeritus, said there was a great deal of uncertainty in the revenue predictions. One unknown is when the state’s leaders would move to lift the quarantine requirement, he said.

“The problem is that we’re now in the business of forecasting what the viral science is going to be doing and then we also have to forecast what the politicians are doing. And so it’s getting pretty crazy,” Suyderhoud said during an online broadcast of the meeting.

The council last issued its forecast on March 11 before the state’s stay-at-home order and traveler quarantine took effect. At that point, the council estimated general fund tax revenues would increase 3.8% during the current fiscal year and be flat in the next fiscal year.

Hawaii law requires policymakers to consider the council’s estimates when drafting state budgets and appropriating funds. Its seven members are appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president.