Report: Hawaii Voters Support State Online Service Upgrades, But Not Tax Hikes

A majority of Hawaii voters polled support using taxpayer dollars to improve online access to state services, but only a quarter would support higher taxes to pay for these upgrades, according to a recent Transform Hawaii government poll.

It comes as the Covid-19 pandemic has made virtual access to government agencies more important than ever, with residents unable to visit state offices in person and phone lines inundated with tens of thousands of callers. .

“During the pandemic, we experienced more directly what it feels like not to have access to services at a time when everyone is sheltering in place,” said THG Executive Director Christine Sakuda . “We wanted to take this opportunity to assess the public’s experience in accessing government services and do they support the development of online services in the future?” “

Problems with accessing the state unemployment office are proof of the need to upgrade state IT systems, according to an organization advocating for better access. Courtesy of DLIR

By polling more than 700 registered voters from September through October, researchers found that six in 10 Hawaii voters “strongly or somewhat” supported allocating funds to update the state’s internet infrastructure – versus 24% who opposed it. Just over half of those polled agreed it would help eliminate wasted income, more than double of voters who disagreed.

Democratic voters were slightly more likely to approve of the update to online access; however, more Republicans and Independents have approved the embezzlement of budget funds to support digital upgrades than those who have not.

Yet despite substantial support for an IT overhaul, the report found that only 24% of Hawaii voters were willing to pay more taxes to enable these upgrades, compared with 58% indicating they would not support d ” possible tax increases.

One of the reasons behind this lukewarm support, said Sakuda, was likely the state’s failure to communicate its vision of a “digital and tech savvy government.”

“What is the state’s collective commitment to providing the best services to the community as effectively and efficiently as possible? Sakuda said. “What does it look like?”

The report also looked at voters’ past experiences with digital government and found, despite near ubiquitous internet access and high levels of digital literacy, three in ten respondents had never interacted with state agencies online. . The remaining 67% of Hawaii voters reported “mixed results” when trying to access services on the internet – only one in three generally succeeded on the first try, 43% said they needed more than one attempt, and 15% were ultimately unable to find help. they need.

Overall, only 21% of those surveyed found the state’s current online system “adequate”.

Although there have been efforts to update the state’s IT infrastructure, progress has been mixed, Sakuda said. This resulted in significant headaches reaching essential offices such as the State Unemployment Insurance Division, which at one point found its 40-year-old mainframe inundated with 40,000 calls a day to the amid record high unemployment rates during pandemic shutdown.

The division “was in the process of modernizing; the pandemic has just struck at the wrong time, ”said Sakuda. “They didn’t have enough resources to modernize and meet the ever-increasing needs at the same time, so they had to rely on an older system, which resulted in a lot of frustration people didn’t. not being called back and unable to go through the application process. “

Given the choice, just over half of voters would choose to access state agencies over the internet, the report said, compared to 29% who prefer in-person service. And when logging into state websites, 64% of those surveyed said they would prefer to use a username and password at state agencies, six times more than those who prefer the status quo.

With billions of federal funds filling state coffers in the wake of the landmark November infrastructure bill and statewide elections later this year, Sakuda says Hawaii faces challenges. a “unique opportunity” to transform the way it serves its residents.

“It’s great to see that voters are aware of the internet and support that government services are increasingly online,” Sakuda said. “We need to keep the conversation going… to make sure investments happen in the right place at the right time. “

“Especially now.”

The Hawaii Community Foundation’s Omidyar Ohana Fund supports the Transform Hawaii government. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

Veronica J. Snell