[Video feed courtesy KITV]
HONOLULU, Hawaii: Governor Neil Abercrombie delivered his second State of the State address before the state Legislature on Monday, laying out the initiatives his administration will pursue over the session. The governor struck a different tone than the troubled address he delivered a year ago, in the midst of a daunting budget crunch.
“One year ago,” Abercrombie said, “I stood before you to present the sobering fiscal reality facing Hawai’i. At that time, we faced an enormous deficit and the effects of fractured government services. The discussion was not about “whether” we needed to find additional revenues, but about “where” we needed to find them.
But by working together and through shared sacrifice, we have started to turn the corner. This past year has not been easy but we have accomplished our purpose.
I want to thank the Legislature for your collaboration.
Thank you to the public for weathering through those difficult choices.
Thank you, especially to our state employees, who agreed to labor savings and additional payments for health benefits.
There was no way for us to have balanced our budget and achieved today’s fiscally favorable outlook without the commitment of everyone. To all of you who came to work each day bearing the burden of cuts and slashes to your programs for the past three years; and to those of you who gave up furloughs because of your commitment to serving Hawai’i’s people, I thank you. Mahalo plenty to each and every one of you.”
The governor got to the Hawaii State Teachers Association situation early on… it ws just a few days ago that teachers rebuked a tentative contract agreement in a union vote, sending negotiators back to the drawing board, and jeopardizing millions in federal Race To The Top money.
“Together, we are moving forward. And moving forward means leaving behind the drama of the recent past.
It is for that reason that I have again, requested that the Hawai’i State Teachers Association provide us with a proposal as soon as possible. After good faith negotiations achieving two agreements, the teachers still have not ratified a contract. I will continue to press for a resolution.
Nonetheless, we must continue our focus on our children and students’ performance. We cannot wait any longer. We wanted to cross the Race to the Top finish line side-by-side with the HSTA. Make no mistake we will cross that finish line. Our students deserve no less. We will be using all management, administrative, legislative and legal tools we have at our disposal to implement an evaluation system that not only measures, but achieves student growth; turns around low-performing schools; and supports teachers in increasing their effectiveness.
Just as we must concentrate on providing for our children’s future, it is critical that we continue the economic momentum we have achieved. Since last year, Hawai’i’s recovery has been steady.”
Abercrombie then outlined a number of initiatives that he will be moving forward in order to strengthen the economic recovery that began in 2011.
“The first is construction. All the signs show that private investment and construction appears hesitant and tentative. Therefore, it is the public sector that must step up to invest in repairs and maintenance, construction projects and infrastructure improvements. By aggressively putting these projects into action, we will ensure that job creation continues.
Our recent bond and refinancing sale of nearly $1.3 billion, along with $1 billion of projects that are already on the budget books and another $300 million proposed in this supplemental budget will spur an immediate rise in job growth.
These New Day Work Projects were chosen because they not only address critical infrastructure needs, but more importantly, they are primed and ready to go. We looked for projects that were not mired in permitting delays, or only in design and planning stages, but those that are ready to provide impact now.
After my initial discussions with the House and Senate, I know that we are all committed to looking at an aggressive budget schedule for these repair and maintenance construction projects. I am committed as well to working with you to make sure that we have a healthy and strong construction budget and a solid plan to continue our investment in our economy.”
The governor then addressed a topic dear to Hawaii Island’s heart… the preservation and protection of the state’s watersheds.
“Finally, in this area of our economic future, we must never forget that we need to invest in being proper stewards of our Hawai’i nei. We must nurture our environment, not only because it is pono, but because it is an essential investment for kama’aina and visitors alike.
It is for that reason that I am proposing that we invest $5 million in protecting our watersheds. If we are going to nurture the ahupua’a of every island, if we are to keep our oceans blue, then we must save Hawai’i’s forests and preserve our water resources.
Paradise is our home, it needs our devotion and care.”
The governor also promised to make the TV and Film Tax Credit permanent, investing $1 million towards early childhood education and health initiatives, while investing another $1.4 million to establish Aging and Disabilities Resource Centers to assist challenged kupuna.
Abercrombie also talked about an emergency appropriation for a grant of $1.8 million to support the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii in light of the closure of two Hawai’i Medical Center hospitals.
Once again, the governor set his sights on a cause that stirred controversy last year… an attempt to tackle the obesity epidemic through legislation.
“The fact remains that the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and health is undeniable. I have proposed the establishment of a task force, with members from the public and private sectors, to identify and then implement a solution to this very real health issue in our state. The group’s objective will be navigating us away from the path that has led obesity rates in Hawai’i to have doubled in the last 15 years. Sadly, more deaths and illnesses have occurred from chronic diseases than from contagious diseases in Hawai’i.
As our Director of the state Department of Health recently noted, obesity is not just about losing weight for our children… “It is a deadly accurate predictor of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other mental and physical ailments” that can follow our children throughout their lives.
For these early childhood education and health initiatives, we are requesting $1 million.”
The state’s prison system, and improvements to the criminal justice system, were also a central theme.
“All these initiatives are not only about saving or spending money or programs and projects. It is about “how” to spend precious taxpayer dollars. A key example of this is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The data is clear that from 1997 to 2010, violent and property crime has steadily decreased by nearly half. Despite these improvements in public safety, the incarceration population has remained the same. We must change the way in which our laws work, change the way in which the system works, so that we can make a clear distinction between those who need to stay in prison to keep the public safe versus those who present little risk. But, we must also provide proper and consistent supervision to those who are released so that we act with dispatch when any offender fails to take advantage of the opportunity offered for a productive life.
After an unprecedented collaboration between the Governor’s Office, Justice Department, Public Safety Department, key lawmakers, the Judiciary and The Council of State Governments Justice Center, we will be proposing legislation that improves the criminal justice system utilizing the most up-to-date strategies. And we will do this with existing resources.”
And finally… talk about an energy policy, that framed Hawaii Island front and center.
“Currently there are about 80 renewable energy projects that are demonstrating progress in becoming commercial enterprises that have the potential to help the State of Hawai’i achieve its collective energy goals. This Administration will continue to look at every option – wind, solar, natural gas, photovoltaic, geothermal, biofuels, ocean energy and other technologies. We will be aggressive but respectful in our approach to our island environment.
These projects are just the first step, and in the next few months we will be unveiling a comprehensive roadmap for the state, beginning on Hawai’i Island, for building a world leading, sustainable economy standing on our people’s history of self-sufficiency in both food and energy. It is time for us to work together to put willpower to our resources and make this a reality for the state.
That is why I have assigned Lt. Governor Brian Schatz to coordinate and support our energy priorities. We must stay the course when it comes to advancing our clean energy future and ensure that collaborative decisions are being made. Swift and appropriate regulation must take place, as well as healthy competition and local entrepreneurship, community involvement and integration.
The time of sustainability rhetoric is over. Bold action is needed now. We must address two critical issues to position ourselves for increasing use of alternative energy – reliability and infrastructure.
While Hawai’i has an abundance of natural resources to tap into, the system cannot maintain itself solely with sources that shift with changing winds or the sun hiding behind the clouds. The system demands a clear measure of reliability of energy to feed into the grid. Therefore, one of my primary energy initiatives will be to provide the Public Utilities Commission with the explicit authority to develop, adopt and monitor electricity reliability standards. This will include jurisdiction over how independent power producers connect to the grid. Currently, while the PUC can take on issues through its formal docket process, there is no comprehensive authority to oversee reliability standards. To ensure that we have control over the reliability of the energy feeding into the system, we need to give the PUC this authority.
But more importantly, we need to create the infrastructure for stability. This means making the long-term infrastructure investments that ensure our electric grids are stable, reliable and modern enough to integrate alternative and renewable energy technologies. Our investment now will benefit future generations. Had we made this commitment in years past we would be benefitting from it today.
One of those investments is an undersea cable that can connect our island grids to provide stable, reliable electricity between islands. This integrated grid will provide stable energy prices and equalize rates between the islands, which will benefit all of us. To pay for this critical piece of infrastructure, we are proposing legislation that will attract private capital resources and expertise. In today’s uncertain world, we cannot postpone Hawai’i’s clean energy future any longer. We can only get there if we move now. There is no legislation more critical to our future.
I assure you, the energy debates that will take place this session will echo the debates that took place here when I was a legislator in these chambers in the 1970s. Let us not repeat a history of failure to act in 2012.”
The Governor will be submitting the measures that were mentioned in his speech as well as other proposals such as a bill to make appropriations for fiscal years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 to recapitalize the Emergency and Budget Reserve Fund and the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund.
The Governor’s office will also be introducing a resolution to study the efficacy of combining state government health policy, planning and purchasing into a single agency in order to advance transformation of Hawaii’s Healthcare System and universal access.
Overall, the Governor is introducing about 15 pieces of legislation this legislative session. The various state departments will be introducing about 170 measures.