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Gov. David Ige spoke about several of the state’s accomplishments and identified housing, homelessness and the environment as top priorities in his State of the State address Monday.
Calling Hawaii “the most beautiful place on earth,” Ige said the state’s diverse, multicultural residents live together in greater harmony, celebrating “each other and our differences.” Taking a jab at President Donald Trump, the governor said Hawaii would not stand for “hateful and hurtful policies” coming from the White House.
“The state of our state is strong,” Ige said. “We are a resilient people and our future is bright.”
The greatest challenge to Hawaii, Ige said, is homelessness. The state is on track to meet its goal of creating 10,000 housing units by 2020, including 40 percent affordable housing, he said. Ige noted he has asked the Legislature for $100 million to continue to build affordable homes and $15 million for the Housing First program to transition people out of homelessness.
More money has been dedicated to mental health, Ige said, and more landlords are renting to families transitioning out of homelessness.
He called for more units modeled after Kahauiki Village, a public-private housing project for homeless families.
“When we say ohana, we truly mean nobody gets left behind,” he said.
Some legislators criticized Ige’s speech, saying he mentioned few details and cited accomplishments led by the Legislature, not the governor’s office.
“The Legislature is here to help fill in some of those details,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee.
Critics also noted Ige did not address the recent false missile alert.
Climate change challenges “stare us in the face every single day,” Ige said, adding he wants to grow Hawaii’s carbon market, and plant koa and ohia trees to offset emissions. He called for the use of seawater air conditioning, solar and wind energy, and hydropower.
Hawaii needs to be less dependent on imported fossil fuels and groceries, he said.
The governor reiterated Senate President Ron Kouchi’s opening day call for a partnership between the state departments of education and agriculture to provide locally grown food for school lunches, and pointed to a bill he signed into law requiring all of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2045.
Hawaii was the first state to sign into law its own version of the Paris Climate Accord agreement, he said, and a partnership with the U.S. Navy has led to guidelines on using recycled water on food crops.
He also mentioned the importance of increasing local food production, state tax credits for organic farmers, and the protection of Turtle Bay lands and 40,000 acres of watershed forests on neighbor islands.
On education, Ige said the state’s early college education programs allow high school students to earn credits and save money.
The University of Hawaii West Oahu and Hawaii Community College Palamanui campuses have both expanded services. At the system’s flagship Manoa campus, STEM graduates have increased by more than a third in recent years, he said.
He also noted the state passed the Hawaii Promise Program to cover unmet tuition of needy community college students and cooled “1,200 classrooms and counting.” Ige’s commitment to cool 1,000 classrooms in his 2016 State of the State speech was slow to come to fruition, marked by missed deadlines and unexpectedly high bids.
Ige didn’t talk much about Hawaiian issues, though he said he “fought to give Native Hawaiians a seat at the table” over the management of the Papahanaumokuakea. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has since become a co-trustee of the marine monument.
The Department of Hawaiian Homelands received $24 million in 2016 — the highest level of funding in its history, Ige said, and more than double what the department received before. Ige didn’t mention that he requested that funding after a judge ruled DHHL needed to be adequately funded beyond the $9.6 million appropriated at that time.
Ige, who is running for re-election this year, also mentioned quality of life issues such as traffic congestion and the cost of living.
Zipper, shoulder, truck and contraflow lanes have helped mitigate traffic, Ige said, but the state needs to undertake more road projects that can be done quickly, inexpensively and with minimal environmental impact.
He asked his audience to imagine a Hawaii in which the state’s economy was not driven by tourism and the military, but local entrepreneurs exporting products, produce and services.
At several points in his speech, Ige recognized business people in the audience.
“This future Hawaii isn’t as far off as it seems,” Ige said, later adding: “We all dream of our children succeeding here in Hawaii. With my three children on the mainland, I know firsthand how hard it is to have them an ocean away.”
He ended his speech by recalling his first run for governor four years ago, noting his “lifetime of public service,” and saying that he wanted to “fundamentally change the path we were taking.”
Many of the deliberate pauses in Ige’s speech were met with silence or slow, staggered applause.
Sen. Michele Kidani, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said teacher recruiting, retention strategies and salaries should’ve been given more attention.
Rep. Scott Saiki, House speaker, said he was “pleased” that Ige’s priorities of homelessness and housing lined up with their own. The House recently received more than 100 bills submitted by the governor, though they have yet to be processed.
While Ige’s speech was light on details, Saiki said he assumed the package would flesh out the governor’s plan. Saiki was surprised by the fact that Ige spoke about the need for STEM education, he said, but didn’t reiterate his commitment to the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope.
Saiki said he was also surprised that Ige didn’t mention efforts to relocate the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Ige’s speech briefly mentioned state efforts to modernize the tax collection system, which has been impacted by a change in leadership, low employee morale and efforts to manipulate a report by an independent consultant, as the Star-Advertiser reported. Luke said Ige “glossed over” its problems, but she hoped the new tax department director would make a difference.
There was little talk of new neighbor island issues, Luke said, and she wants to the governor come up with more specific priorities to address homelessness. The state hasn’t done enough to help the third of homeless people who are mentally ill, she said.