In his first State of the State address to a joint session of the State Legislature Monday morning, Gov. David Ige spoke of various issues that he sees challenging Hawaii in the months ahead.
Many gathered at the State Capitol to hear him speak, including former governors Neil Abercrombie, Ben Cayetano, John Waihee III and George Ariyoshi.
Ige said since his inauguration last month, he feels invigorated and challenged. “We have a mountain of challenges to climb and so I hope we can climb it together,” he said.
Ige said the state can achieve a number of goals by making government more efficient and “spending smarter.” He said Hawaii needs to be more aggressive in seeking federal dollars and mentioned the $940 million available to the state for the right projects.
The governor also talked about rail and said he wants it to succeed, but adds that he wants it done the right way for the right reasons.
“I mean, it’s the whole package, right? What kinds of things can they do to reduce costs? What kinds of things can they do to leverage other investments?” he posed.
Building more affordable homes is one of the administration’s main goals. Therefore, the governor said he is adding $100 million to the rental assistance revolving fund that can be leveraged with private money and state-owned lands along the transit route to provide rental homes for working families.
The governor will also be hiring someone to help in the Office of Planning “to help us assess and evaluate those parcels specifically to build affordable homes.”
“It’s important because the state has a lot of acreage around the rail line and there needs to be someone who’s in charge of coordinating that on behalf of the state,” said Rep. Scott Saiki, (D-McCully, Kaheka, Kakaako, Downtown), House majority leader.
Saiki says he is looking forward to working with Ige on health care, including the the Health Connector and public hospitals, as well as prisons.
The Senate majority has similar priorities as the governor, such as energy, smart growth and government effectiveness.
“Back to basics, back to building our foundation and setting a really good foundation, I think that’s something we all agree with him,” said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, (D-Kapalama, Alewa, Kalihi Valley, Ft. Shafter, Moanalua Gardens and Valley), Senate president.
“Of course, the Senate minority’s position is we have to cut the budget, we have to cut spending, we have to say no to people that have been getting outrageous salaries, so I would have liked to hear more of that,” said Sen. Sam Slom, (R-Hawaii Kai, Kuliouou, Niu, Aina Haina, Waialae-Kahala, Diamond Head), Senate minority leader.
The governor also wants to increase the Department of Education’s Weighted Student Formula, giving schools more money per student. “This will allow principals to decide how to spend this portion of the DOE’s budget and how to best meet the needs of their students,” he said.
Ige also touched upon the following issues:Energy
Gov. Ige said that the importation of fossil fuel “remains one of our greatest weaknesses and we simply must move to reduce our dependence on it. We have the locally generated resources that can allow us to be self-sufficient.” He is asking his newly appointed head of the Public Utilities Commission, Randy Iwase, to be involved with the talks between Hawaiian Electric and its new owner NextEra.
“In addition, with the help of the Legislature, we will be restructuring and staffing the PUC to give it the expertise and resources needed to deal with its due diligence,” he said. “I will also be assigning a special counsel to protect the public’s interest for the short and long term.”Finance and taxes
In hopes of getting better access to federal money for state projects, Gov. Ige announced the appointment of Elizabeth Kim as his special adviser. Kim was previously announced as his director for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations before her name was withdrawn due to her not meeting residency requirements.
The governor said “we also need to do a better job of collecting taxes already on the books.” To do that, he’s asking for an upgrade of the tax system. “While the project is expected to take several years, we should see a sizable increase in tax collections after the first two years.”Health
Gov. Ige attributed the success of the Prepaid Healthcare Act for Hawaii residents healthy lifestyles and long life expectancies. “With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the launching of Hawaii’s Health Connector, we can close that gap.
“But we’ve got work to do,” he said. “I will not minimize the disappointments we’ve all felt with the Health Connector. But I will not dwell on them either. That’s why we’re working closely with all stakeholders to ensure that we move toward a sustainable exchange, one that meets the requirements of the Affordable Care Act without endangering Hawaii’s Prepaid Healthcare Act.”Agriculture
The governor said that if Hawaii is going to be self-sustainable, the state has to increase its present numbers of 10-15 percent locally grown food.
Gov. Ige has assigned agriculture director Scott Enright to meet with island farmers to see what is needed to make Hawaii more self-sufficient. “In the meantime, we are adding $5 million to the agriculture loan program and expanding use of the fund to include biosecurity and food safety needs.”Innovation and technology
The governor called for the nurturing of an “innovation economy … a whole new economic paradigm which we need to support with modern infrastructure, whether it’s expanding our broadband network or building innovation parks. That’s why we are providing $10 million for the HI Growth initiative to support innovation.”
The initiative is an investment program focused on the knowledge and creative industries. Click here to find out more about the HI Growth Initiative.
At the conclusion of his speech, the Governor reminded lawmakers of the sacrifices Hawaii residents make.
“I know what it’s like to scrimp and save to buy a home and pay for tuition. I know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. … And so, again, I ask all of you to remember why we’re here and why we do what we do: Ko ka kou home. This is our home.
“Let that be your focus. Let that direct your actions and drive your determination. Let the end, not justify the means, but allow us to work through them.
“If we do that I think we will find ourselves in agreement more often than not,” he said.