With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to damage Hawaii’s struggling economy, state House and Senate leaders have a long list of ideas that they either hope or expect to hear from Gov. David Ige during his State of the State address today.
Senate President Ron Kouchi (D, Kauai-Niihau) wants Ige to outline clear directions on how to address both COVID-19 and the economy.
“I hope to hear a specific plan of economic development, revitalization and diversification and a clear direction on how we effectively and efficiently continue to roll out the vaccination program — and what other mechanisms or recommendations does he have to deal with the current (budget) shortfall.”
Hawaii relies on the national supply chain for its weekly delivery of COVID-19 vaccine, but Kouchi hopes Ige outlines a plan that will help give residents consistency and comfort.
Appointments are sometimes canceled, and there can be more demand than supply, depending how much weekly vaccine Hawaii receives, Kouchi said.
“It’s a reflection of the supply chain,” Kouchi said. “But unfortunately, that creates an image of us not knowing what we’re doing or maybe that something’s being wasted. … That’s not really a reflection of what’s being done locally. Still, we want to make sure that every vaccine we receive is being put into somebody’s arm.”
For lawmakers, Ige’s thoughts on addressing a projected $1.4 billion shortfall in each of the next four years will guide them through this session’s economic priorities.
But the picture constantly changes, with the island economy performing better than expected and the potential for another round of federal stimulus under the new administration of President Joe Biden.
On Thursday, Ige announced that previous cuts to the Department of Education of 10% would be reduced to cuts of 2.5%, meaning the DOE’s budget will have $123 million more than expected.
Even with the economy in flux, House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili- Makiki-Tantalus) hopes that Ige provides short- and long-term economic ideas.
“I hope we hear more about how we are really going to meaningfully address the budget shortfall, as well as how do we reposition and recover so that we have hope for our people,” she said. “I want to see real pathways to a sustainable future, whatever it is.
“We all recognize that this is such a critically important time in our state’s history,” Belatti said. “We have an economy that is faltering, if not free-falling. But we have an obligation to set a course for the future. How do we manage tourism? How do we address climate change and create sustainable energy? These issues never went away during the pandemic. What is the pathway forward? That is what I want to hear from our governor.”
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) said Ige has to deliver a State of the State address as if he’s giving a motivational halftime speech “and convince his team he has a winning strategy to follow.”
But in a text message to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Ward said his expectations are low.
“What I want to hear but don’t expect to in Gov. Ige’s State of the State address are specific timelines of future hope of: 1) when the pandemic will be ended, 2) the economy will be re-opened, 3) small businesses will be helped and survive, and 4) when the budget will be balanced and the billion dollar deficits will be repaid. If there are no goals and set times of accomplishment there’s not going to be the hope that many people now need to get through the many hardships they are experiencing.”
Vice House Speaker John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley) — long an advocate for social service needs — has a list of topics that he hopes Ige addresses but is not sure that Ige will.
“I’m hoping to hear that we were able to defend much of the health and human services for people in need,” Mizuno said. “What I’m expecting to hear is not along those lines. I’m bracing to hear significant cuts … with the possibility of furloughs in the summertime. With all due respect to the governor, I would not support those drastic measures. … Now is not the time to make big cuts that will hurt people for years to come.”
Mizuno supports efforts to streamline state government operations while “being more sensitive not to take dramatic cuts.”
Mizuno also would like Ige to announce consistent travel requirements across all counties to help stimulate travel, but does not think that will happen.
“That’s going to reopen the economy, but he continues to acquiesce to the mayor of Maui and the mayor of Kauai,” Mizuno said. “You can’t open up the economy with a fragmented plan. The Safe Travels plan needs to be universal for the entire state. … He’s got to make the tough decisions even though it may be unpopular with the county mayors, because this is a statewide issue.”
Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kailua- Kaneohe) agrees that Ige needs to specify a statewide vaccination plan, even though many of the responsibilities begin with the federal government.
“I’m not sure what priorities of the state are higher than the vaccination plan in this moment,” Keohokalole said. “A lot of it relies on the federal government. But I’m hoping that he can inform us of how he plans to bring some urgency to that effort. … There needs to be urgency on these issues like UI (unemployment insurance), COVID-19 and the budget deficit. But in this moment the priority is the vaccine plan, specifically, making sure there is a clear plan to communicate to the community on all the different islands because the situation is so different on the islands.”
While the economy and budget remain in flux, Keohokalole also hopes that Ige outlines “a plan of action to deal with the budget challenges ahead. I’d like to hear some urgency from him so that we can take steps to legislate accordingly.”
WHERE TO WATCH
The address is scheduled to be broadcast at 10 a.m. today on:
>> ‘Olelo Channel 53 (and 1053 for Hawaiiantel HD)
>> ‘Olelo’s website and mobile app
>> Circuit Capitol TV within the state Capitol
Source: Office of Gov. David Ige