Next Tuesday, voters statewide will face five constitutional amendments, two of which relate to agriculture. Get to know what these amendment questions mean before heading to the polls so you can choose either Yes or No, since a blank vote counts as a No. Here’s what you need to know about Amendment 2, which would support the local food industry and agriculture.
What it says:
CON AMEND: Relating to Agricultural Enterprises
“Shall the State be authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds from the bonds to assist agricultural enterprises on any type of land, rather than only important agricultural lands?”
What it means:
Special purpose revenue bonds are issued to allow private investors to give loans to borrowers—say, a farmer. The investor, not the state, is responsible for paying back the funds if the borrower falls short. These loans come with a lower interest rate, which benefits the borrower, and the interest is tax-free, which benefits the investor. The state does nothing other than facilitate, meaning no taxpayer money is spent, and the state’s credit is not affected if the borrower doesn’t make payments.
Right now, only 6 percent of Hawai‘i is designated as important agricultural lands. It’s a lengthy and complicated process to apply, says Brandon Lee of Ulupono Initiative, and the designation requires the lands must be used only as ag lands, never for any other purpose, such as development. Farmers on these lands are allowed to seek special purpose revenue bonds; though, according to Lee, none has been granted in the past four years.
“There is an allocation [of bonds],” Lee says. Because the state can’t allow the special bonds for every single project, there are designated categories, such as early childhood education and nonprofit healthcare facilities. “But, roughly, in four years, four or five projects have been approved as special purpose revenue bonds, and none of them under agriculture. Ag hasn’t gotten its fair share.”
Broadening the category from important agricultural lands to ag enterprises on any lands will increase the chances that farmers, ranchers and other ag businesses can get the money they need to update their operations, improve facilities and, ultimately, grow more food.