Gov. David Ige vowed in his second State-of the-State speech to install fixes that will cool 1,000 public school classrooms by the end of the year, and to launch an initiative to develop water, sewer and other infrastructure to make it easier to for companies to develop affordable housing.
Ige pledged to tap $100 million from the Green Energy Market Securitization program, or GEMS, to help the state Department of Education to install air conditioners and other cooling equipment in classrooms across the state.
“The Department of Education has already launched an energy-efficiency program called Ka Hei. This is a start and we need to take it farther,” Ige said. “By using existing GEMS program dollars, the Department of Education and its energy-efficiency partner, OpTerra, can quickly access affordable financing for a large portion of its cost to air condition our classrooms.”
The GEMS program has been billed as a way to make clean energy improvements more affordable and accessible for Hawaii consumers by financing solar photovoltaic systems and other clean energy improvements for people who can’t afford them on their own.
The program has been criticized because it has cost taxpayers more than $100,000 in start-up costs, but has not actually resulted in installation of any solar equipment yet. Administration officials told lawmakers earlier this year they sold $145 million in bonds so far to launch the program, and that borrowed money was to be made available for clean energy projects.
Ige also highlighted two of his major proposed capital projects: investing $160.5 million to revamp the State Hospital in Kaneohe, which serves the mentally ill, and moving the Oahu Correctional Facility in Kalihi to Halawa.
He said that moving the jail will address the facility’s perpetual overcrowding problem and help make way for the redevelopment of Kalihi.
With intense media attention on Hawaii’s growing homeless problem, Ige also laid out his strategies for creating temporary shelter space and long-term affordable housing solutions.
The Ige administration is finishing up renovations on a 5,000 square-foot warehouse space in Kakaako, which is expected to house up to 240 people a year. Ige pitched the space as not “just another shelter,” but a Family Assessment Center designed to connect families to more permanent housing.
Ige announced that the state will also be immediately investing $5 million in a public-private partnership with Aloha United Way that will provide direct funding for rapid re-housing, homeless prevention services and the establishment of a statewide referral system.
The program is expected to provide immediate relief to an estimated 1,300 households, said Ige.
The governor also focused on the need to create affordable housing, noting estimates that the state will need 66,000 housing units in the coming years.
“You cannot talk about homelessness without talking about the the major reason why (homelessness) has become so widespread,” said Ige. “And that is the lack of affordable housing.”
Ige is proposing legislation that will allow the state to use the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund, a state housing fund, to finance new roads, water systems and other infrastructure that has hamstrung the construction of new housing. He’s seeking to increase the fund by $25 million for the 2017 fiscal year.
The governor is also looking to diversify some of Oahu’s major public housing developments, including the North School Street redevelopment project, Kuhio Park Terrace and Mayor Wright Homes. Through public-private partnerships, the state is seeking to shift the public housing model to include mixed-use and mixed income levels.
“These projects will redefine our concept of public housing and make it more efficient, more welcoming and more compassionate,” said Ige.
Ige also announced the creation of a Hawaii Invasive Species Authority to combat the continued spread of destructive invasive species into the islands, but provided no details in his speech.
As expected, Ige repeated his plans to pump more money into the state’s effort to prefund retirement medical costs for public workers. When Ige announced his draft budget late last year, he proposed setting aside an extra $164 million for that effort for the year that begins July 1.
That would be in addition to existing requirements mandating that the state set aside $245.8 million to prefund health coverage to public worker retirees and some of their spouses, and another $360 million to pay the current premiums of public workers and retirees.