POSTED: 1:45 a.m. HST, Jan 21, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 1:05 p.m. HST, Jan 21, 2014
Gov. Neil Abercrombie touted the state's economic recovery, called for an increase in the minimum wage and pushed his plan for preschool for all of Hawaii's 4-year-olds in his fourth State of the State address this morning before the Legislature.
The governor's speech comes during an election year, something he noted while talking about his preschool plan.
"I realize this is an election year. Political agendas and ambitions are being formulated. But let us take children out of these equations. Let us resolve -- all of us -- to be champions of children. You have my pledge and my word on that," he said.
Abercrombie convinced the Legislature last session to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November on whether state money should be used for private preschool, part of his plan to eventually offer preschool to all of the state's 4-year-olds. But lawmakers approved only a fraction of the governor's preschool spending request, a $6 million expansion of Preschool Open Doors, a child-care program.
He asked for $8 million for the program this year. "Our plan is targeted, aimed at helping those who otherwise have little or no options. These initial investments will serve an additional 1,040 children and their families," he said.
Abercrombie also called for an increase in minimum wage, a proposal that failed last year.
"A hard-working sector in our community has gone seven without seeing their wages rise." he said. "Therefore, I will be proposing a bill to increase the minimum wage by $1.50 to at least $8.75 starting in January 2015. Average weekly earnings have increased 16 percent since 2007. For minimum wage workers, it's zero."
Last year, the governor pushed a minimum wage increase to $8.75 or more from the current $7.25, but lawmakers couldn't agree how much to increase the 25-cent tip credit, the amount businesses can deduct per hour from waiters, valets and other workers who earn tips.
The Democratic governor also highlighted an $844 million general fund surplus and said it represents a turnaround of more than $1 billion since 2010.
Looking ahead, Abercrombie said other priorities include preserving open spaces at Turtle Bay, supporting the Thirty-Meter Telescope, endorsing initiatives to fund invasive species programs and providing housing for the "chronically homeless and those who suffer from a disability."
He also pushed for tax relief for the elderly. He's proposing to exempt any currently taxed income from all sources, including tax retirement income, for taxpayers who are 65 years old and older. Exemptions would be for those with an adjusted gross income of $25,000 -- or $35,000 for heads of households and $45,000 who file jointly.
Abercrombie said this gives seniors assurances that their retirement income won't be taxed and the plan will help as many as 25,000 Hawaii seniors.
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Abercrombie's speech comes in a year in which he is seeking re-election.
State Sen. David Ige (D, Pearl Harbor-Pearl City-Aiea), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is challenging Abercrombie for the Democratic primary.
Former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a Republican who lost badly to Abercrombie in 2010, said on Friday that he intends to run again. Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who was easily beaten by Abercrombie in the primary in 2010, has considered switching political parties and running as a Republican.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.