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Abercrombie calls for lawmakers to bolster economy, education

    Gov. Neil Abercrombie gave the State of the State Address in the Hawaii State Capitol, House Chambers today.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie today delivered his third State of the State speech, calling on lawmakers to invest in early childhood education and renewable energy initiatives while also putting forth proposals aimed at strengthening the economy and supporting workers.

Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature, Abercrombie repeated his proposed goals of updating the state’s antiquated technology systems and investing in youth by providing all public school students with a laptop or tablet computer — on which to receive a statewide core curriculum — within three years.

He augmented his “New Day” plan outlined in previous speeches with ambitious proposals that include allowing the Department of Education to lease underused land to generate money that could be used toward improving schools.

“Our primary and priority initiatives need to be aimed at preparing ourselves as we assess the demands of the 21st century,” Abercrombie said. “We need to look at state government and the budget, our energy goals, our economy and our kupuna and our keiki.”

Among the initiative likely to get a lot of attention is a proposed increase in the minimum wage, by $1.50, to $8.75 an hour, starting in 2014.

“Everyone is worthy of their labor,” he said. “Industry and corporations do not lack support in these halls, neither should those who work hardest for the least return.”

Abercrombie also announced the formation of a task force that would study the impact on jobs and the economy stemming from the announced closing of one of the state’s two oil refineries. Tesoro Corp. announced earlier this month it would be closing its Kapolei refinery and converting it to a terminal, shedding about 200 jobs.

Abercrombie urged lawmakers to begin weaning the isles off fossil fuels through investment in alternative energy initiatives such as liquefied natural gas while noting that his administration would work with the Legislature to strike an “appropriate balance” on solar tax credits.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism also will be tasked with proposing a funding mechanism that would allow residents, small business and others take advantage of alternative energy projects such as photovoltaic panels.

“No longer will a photovoltaic system be only available to those who can afford the significant initial investment,” he said.

His energy proposals also included redistribution of the barrel tax toward projects in energy diversification, food safety and food security.

Lawmakers should also look toward preservation initiatives, he said, urging further protection of crucial watersheds.

He said he will be asking the Legislature to look at alternative methods of funding watershed protection programs, such as in increase in the conveyance tax on high-end property transactions or a 10-cent fee charged for the use of single-use plastic checkout bags. Those proposals would generate about $10 million and $15 million respectively, he said.

Toward future obligations, Abercrombie called on lawmakers to support his proposals to replenish the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund and the rainy day fund – both of which have been tapped to balance the state budget – and to make payments toward funding retirement benefits for public workers.

Abercrombie opened his speech with a call toward elevating the public discourse, saying controversy over initiatives such as the Public Land Development Corporations should not impede the intended goals of those projects. He said the PLDC, which was given broad exemptions from land use, planning and zoning laws as incentives to attract private developers for projects on state land, was “an attempt to answer the struggle to come out of the worst recession in recent memory.”

He made no other mention of the PLDC in his speech. Last week, Abercrombie said he would consider a repeal of the PLDC if the Legislature is unable to adjust the law to satisfy pubic objections.

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