If last year’s theme was “righting the canoe,” this year’s theme is all about investing in the economy and the future.

With Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s symbolic canoe no longer in jeopardy of capsizing, he’s eased up on his mantra that we all need to paddle.

His new investment strategy is at the forefront of an $11 billion operating budget and $3 billion capital projects budget lawmakers have approved. It’s also evident in the governor’s legislative push for a “Justice Reinvestment” plan and new health programs for kupuna and keiki — initiatives lawmakers also agreed to.

At the close of legislative session Thursday, the governor’s office said such “investments will shape Hawaii’s future in critical areas including elderly care, early childhood education, environment and energy.”

“We can all be proud of the successes that were achieved by the administration and the Legislature working in a spirit of cooperation and commitment to the public good,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “We set out to invest now for the future and I believe that’s exactly what we have accomplished.”

The tone is a far cry from last year, when the governor saw considerable pushback for some controversial proposals, most notably bills that would have taxed pension income and eliminated Medicare Part B reimbursements for public retirees to generate extra cash.

Some notable differences this time around: Abercrombie testified in-person on several of his bills. He took a front-row seat at after-hours conference committee negotiations on the state budget. His staff and advisers — former state lawmakers Blake Oshiro and Kate Stanley, legislative liaison Debbie Shimizu and Chief of Staff Bruce Coppa — had a constant presence at the Capitol, in hearings and conference committees.

The full-court press seemed to pay off. Here’s a look at how some of the governor’s initiatives fared.


Using the governor’s proposed budget as a blueprint, lawmakers agreed to a larger budget than Abercrombie requested. These were some of his requests that lawmakers agreed to:

  • They budgeted $15 million for the state’s chief information officer to modernize outdated information technology infrastructure. The CIO’s Office of Information Management and Technology is a big part of the governor’s New Day initiatives.

  • The budget also includes $5 million for the administration’s Watershed Protection initiative.

  • Lawmakers fully funded the $25 million the administration requested for student bus transportation.

But not all of the governor’s requests were met.

State Budget Chief Kalbert Young has said maintaining healthy reserves is a key standard for bond-rating agencies.

But lawmakers did not fund the governor’s plan to replenish the state’s Rainy Day and Hurricane Relief reserves. Some of that money was instead diverted toward social services.

While they didn’t listen to Young on that front, some legislators did credit him for enabling additional bond-financed capital projects to be worked into the capital improvements side of the budget. Young oversaw a successful bond sale late last year that helped restructure the state’s debt profile via refinancing and paying down debt. The move allows the state to take on the additional debt called for in the $3 billion CIP budget.

The budget also doesn’t include the $1.4 million the governor had wanted for the state’s Broadband Initiative.

Interisland Undersea Cable

After stalling, the controversial undersea cable bill made a comeback during the final days of the session and passed both chambers.

The latest version would not require an undersea transmission cable be built between the islands, nor fast-track a project or allow for relaxed environmental regulations.

The measure would set up a regulatory framework for an undersea electric transmission cable if one is built. The project would become a regulated utility under the Public Utilities Commission.

OHA Land Deal

Earlier in the session, Abercrombie enacted historic legislation that settles a $200 million tab from the state to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The OHA deal was seen as a victory for the governor, who was able to do what his predecessors were not: resolve a 30-year-old unresolved claim to income and proceeds from ceded lands.

Justice Reinvestment

Two of the administration’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative bills passed. The measures — Senate Bill 2776 and House Bill 2515 — aim to make the state’s criminal justice system more efficient and improve accountability, according to the governor’s office.

“This is not an early release program, but an opportunity for Hawaii to move forward in its efforts to bring back the 1,700 inmates housed on the mainland,” Sen. Will Espero said Thursday on the floor in support of SB 2776.

“Most importantly, these initiatives increase public safety through evidence-based policy models proven in 14 other states that reduce recidivism and invest savings back into community programs and supervision,” his office said in a statement.

Kupuna, Keiki

  • Legislators funded $1.4 million to create aging and disability resource centers in each county to streamline access to long-term supports and services for older adults with disabilities and family caregivers.

  • The governor’s soda tax proposal fizzled in the 2011 session, but lawmakers this year agreed to fund an initiative for early childhood health. The measure would set up a task force for the prevention of childhood obesity and collect and analyze Hawaii-specific early childhood obesity data, among other things.

  • The Legislature appropriated $300,000 for the Early Childhood Education goal to develop and implement a comprehensive early childhood system and a phased plan for a public-private preschool program for 4-year-olds.

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