Gov. David Ige touched on a number of priority areas — from taxes and spending to education — but offered few specific proposals in his first State of the State before the Legislature Monday.
Stressing the theme of “home building,” Ige said in his prepared text “we are building a home for our kupuna, ourselves and our children.”
Moving further into the analogy, “as any carpenter knows, building a good home takes time, money and skill” and a need for a strong foundation, Ige said. “That’s what I find myself doing as your new governor, building a solid foundation for this administration, for the work ahead and for the people of Hawaii.”
Ige said that he’s been told by federal officials that there is about $940 million available to the state “for the right projects, proposed for the right reasons and at the right time.” He said he is naming Elizabeth Kim, a former Hawaii resident who has worked various government posts in Washington D.C. over the last several decades, as his special advisor to lead the effort to locate the federal dollars. Kim had been nominated as labor director, but dropped the selection after learning of a one-year residency requirement for department heads in the Hawaii Constitution.
He also reiterated his recent call to modernize the sate’s tax collection system to make it more efficient and reduce cheating. “The upgrade will better secure tax information and increase tax revenues through its efficiencies,” Ige said. While not giving estimates on cost, the governor said the upgrade should “eventually pay for itself through these increased revenues.”
On the spending side, Ige said he wants to “change the mindset” of how both civil servants and Hawaii residents view the state government. He urged everyone to embrace change, starting with an effort to reduce the amount of paper used by the government.
“We need to invest in our employees and ask them to what changes can be made to improve services and reduce costs,” he said.:”And we need to support them when we make those changes.”
Ige reaffirmed his support for the city’s rail project. But in response to the call by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and city transit officials to extend, in this session, the half-percent surcharge on the excise tax beyond 2022, the governor said: “let’s make sure we do things the right way for the right reasons, including cost containment, before we ask for more money.”
A position in the Office of Planning will be filled, he said, “to help us assess and evaluate those parcels specifically to build affordable homes.”
Ige also pledged adding $100 million to the rental assistance revolving fund so state money can be “leveraged with private money and state-owned lands along the transit route to provide rental homes for working families.”
In health, the administration “will be working 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.”
He added: “Universal healthcare is within our grasp in Hawaii.”
Ige also gave little specifics the financial crisis hitting the state hospital system. “Public-private partnerships offer great potential, but only if they are shaped in the right way.”
Regarding the recently proposed sale of Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest energy provider, to Next Era, Ige said he wants new Public Utilities Commission chief Randy Iwase “to be actively involved in those talks.”
The governor said he is adding $10 million for the Hawaii Growth Initiative to support a push to nurture “an innovation economy” that features new technologies. Ige said he also is pledging $5 million to the agriculture loan program and allow the fund to be used for biosecurity and food safety needs.
The state needs “to fulfill our obligations to our host culture whose sense of aloha influences everything we do,” the governor said, although he offered no specific proposals.
On education, Ige skirted the specific controversies regarding the University of Hawaii such as the cost for salvaging the financially troubled UH Cancer Center and challenged public education leaders “to stop issuing mandates from the state office and to focus on empowering schools and delivering resources to the school level.”