State of the State Address
Governor David Y. Ige
To the thirtieth State Legislature
Meeting in Joint Session January 21, 2020
Mr. Speaker, President Kouchi, former governors, distinguished justices of the courts, representatives of our congressional delegation, members of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, elected officials, military leaders, honored guests, and all of you who took the time to be with us this morning.
[Before I begin… Our first responders—whether they are police officers, firefighters, or lifeguards—take great pride in their professionalism and great satisfaction in knowing they are serving others and their community. If you ask them, they will tell you to a man and woman that they are just doing their job, even when they step into harm’s way. But, in truth, they do so much more, especially when the need for them arises. On Sunday, a desperate need did arise, and two heroes stepped up.
I would like us to take a moment of silence for officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama.
Chief Ballard – Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with the HPD ʻohana and with the families of these two brave officers.]
On January 1, we welcomed the dawn of not only a new year, but a new decade.
For those under 30, that may not seem like a big deal.
But for those who grew up without the internet — when The Lord of the Rings was a book you read and not a movie you watched — time has a way of sneaking up on us.
Could any of us have imagined the changes and discoveries that have already taken place in this century?
3-D printers, Facebook, and
And it seems that each year, change happens faster and faster.
How do you keep up with it all? If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit, we can’t. We go along with the flow and hang on for dear life.
But the issues that concern our families haven’t changed for as long as I can remember:
Finding a job that pays the bills,
Dealing with Hawaiʻi’s high cost of living, and
Taking care of our family.
A study sponsored by the Aloha United Way reported that a family of four in Hawaiʻi needs a combined annual income of $77,000 just to survive…to pay for food, housing, health care, childcare and, yes, taxes.
If you asked working families in Hawaiʻi whether they make $77,000 a year, many would answer, “no.” If you asked families who made $77,000 whether that was enough, I suspect the answer would still be, “no.”
At various times, we’ve taken stabs at different aspects of the overall problem. We’ve taken bites out of the housing shortage. We’ve increased the minimum wage. We’ve started childcare and preschool programs. And we’ve provided tax relief for working families.
As a state senator, I remember supporting many bills to help ease Hawaiʻi’s high cost of living. And I recall many others trying to do the same.
Hundreds of bills were introduced, many requested by the community, all competing to improve the quality of life in Hawaiʻi. The House selected their priorities, and the Senate did the same. Advocates successfully moved their priorities from committee to committee. In the end, we agreed on a budget and hundreds of bills that made life a little better.
We went along with the flow and hung on for dear life. Still, the elephant in the room—the cost of living—got a little larger and harder to deal with each year.
Too many in our community, simply gave up and moved away.
And so, at the start of this new decade, it is appropriate to ask ourselves: Does it make any sense to continue to do business as usual?
That’s why House and Senate leadership, community leaders and my administration got together to look for a better way of helping working families. We challenged each other to identify ways to take on reducing the cost of living for working families. We committed to a package of bills that was outlined last week in our joint press conference. We committed to shaping these bills and ushering them through the legislative process. And we made a promise to make life better for our working families.
Moreover, we had an army to assist us. I would like to recognize House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate President Ron Kouchi, their members, key department directors, and many business and non-profit leaders who participated in this historic collaboration. Whether you are up in the gallery or down here on the chamber floor, please stand to be recognized.
A LIVING WAGE
The first thing we agreed to do was to put more money into pockets of working people.
But how do you increase wages without increasing the cost of living? The two are joined at the hip. Clearly, increasing the minimum wage alone would not do it.
But a modest increase phased over time, combined with targeted tax relief, could result in an annual cash benefit of $4,400 to each worker. We believe we have hit the sweet spot that will make a difference for our working families.
Still, some say, that is not enough. And that’s why our package also includes initiatives to reduce the cost of childcare and housing, two of the biggest expenses in a family’s budget.
The proposed bill on expanding affordable childcare complements the proposal we made last year to create a universal public preschool system for four-year-olds. To reach that goal, I noted we would need more than 300 pre-K classrooms.
At the time, I had no illusion about the cost or difficulty of attaining that goal. And so we embarked on a phased process, a way of taking small but steady steps forward.
But this new bill on childcare will allow us to do much more than that.
Today, half of our toddlers, about 20,000 statewide, have no access to childcare or preschool programs. By the end of this decade, we want to eliminate that gap, whether it’s through our pre-K classrooms, private preschools, or the proposed Learning to Grow centers. By the end of this decade, we want every three- and four-year-old in Hawaiʻi to have the opportunity to attend a childcare or preschool program.
Business as usual is NOT acceptable. We want to make an aggressive start now.
Instead of asking working parents to bring their toddlers to us, let’s bring these services to them, whether it’s in community centers, in condominium buildings, or suburban shopping malls.
Instead of waiting three years or more to construct new classrooms, let’s look at all the empty classrooms and underutilized facilities statewide to see if we can make better use of them.
Instead of trying to do all of this with just taxpayer dollars, why not leverage those funds through partnerships with private and nonprofit groups?
We are committed to go the distance because we know our children’s future is at risk.
Education is the foundation of our economy and our quality of life. Everything, including our future, begins with how well we educate our children. And that is significantly affected by the kind of beginnings we provide for them.
We cannot let them down.
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
In Hawaiʻi, the biggest expense for working families by far is housing, whether it’s rent or mortgage payments.
Young families in Hawaiʻi just cannot afford to buy that first home without help.
The spiraling cost of homes in Hawaiʻi is driven by two forces: The first is the high cost of land. The second is real estate speculation.
And so in our joint package, we propose to build 17,000 affordable homes over the next decade on state-owned land in partnership with private developers. The homes would be sold as leasehold, effectively removing the biggest cost for developers: land. That, in turn, will dramatically bring down the price of the homes they build.
Moreover, as the landlord, the state will be able to keep these homes affordable while allowing leaseholders to reasonably share in the equity when they are ready to sell. In other words, we hope to take some of the wind out of speculators’ sails. In this way, we can also ensure that the leasehold property stays affordable forever.
As part of our joint package on housing, we are proposing to invest $200 million for roads and infrastructure to stimulate interest in the University of Hawaiʻi’s housing development plans for its West Oʻahu campus.
With 4,000 units already planned, we are very excited about the new energy these initiatives will inject into the project.
We are also proposing to provide $75 million for affordable housing on the Neighbor Islands.
In addition, we want to streamline the permit process to generate additional interest from developers.
This joint package works hand-in-hand with the progress we made together to make low- and middle-income rental units available to our working families. This not only provides for their immediate housing needs but helps them save for the day when they can buy a home of their own.
But the real story lies with the families that we—you and I—have been able to help.
About six years ago, Krysyan and Jonathan Durrett were living on the mainland when he was offered an internship in Hawaiʻi. The couple, who were born and raised in Hawaiʻi, returned to the islands with their three children and moved in with his parents. When Jonathan’s internship turned into a full-time job, they knew that their living arrangement would no longer work.
The cost of living was overwhelming and finding a place to rent seemed impossible. They were faced with the tough choice of staying near family or moving back to the mainland where the price of everything was lower.
Fortunately, they were able to qualify for an affordable rental in Ewa Beach in a development built by Mutual Housing Association of Hawaiʻi with state assistance.
That allowed the Durretts to not only stay in Hawaiʻi, but, more importantly, save for the future. And after six years, they were able to save enough money for a down payment for a home of their own. Krysyan credits living in the affordable rental community as the primary reason they were able to save and purchase a home in Hawaiʻi.
Krysyan and Jonathan are here with us this morning. Would you stand and be recognized?
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention private developments like Waiawa, Hoʻopili and Koa Ridge. Clearly, it will take the private and public sectors working in concert to meet all of our families’ housing needs.
Building homes is not just about building houses, but also about nurturing communities.
And the importance we give to eliminating homelessness says as much about us as a community as any new development.
From the start of this administration, working with the legislature and the private sector, we have made reducing homelessness a priority. At the time, Hawaiʻi had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.
Between 2016 and 2019, we increased the number of homeless people moving into permanent housing by 73 percent. On average, we have moved over six hundred homeless individuals into permanent housing each month. Those are the statistics.
When it comes to homelessness, progress is really measured one person and one family at a time. For those individuals, their stories are no longer about shuffling between the streets and temporary housing.
Kalani Lautele is a single father with three children. He works in construction, and in 2016 his rent was suddenly doubled, and he found himself and his children homeless and desperate. He was referred to the family assessment center in Kakaʻako where they stayed while waiting for affordable or public housing. Fortunately, Catholic Charities Hawaiʻi was able to find his family permanent housing.
But that’s not the end of his story. Kalani needed a way to “pay forward” the help he was given. After settling in a home in Kalihi, Kalani continued to visit the center. And he brought with him his children and the entire youth football team he coached, to help with outreach events. They also brought donations for the families there, such as toiletries, food and bedding.
I would like Kalani (and his family) to stand and be recognized for their strength of character and for the example they have set for others.
I would also like to take a moment to recognize Lt. Gov. Josh Green for his work on the H4 initiative. The initiative provides medical services for homeless individuals through Joint Outreach Centers in Chinatown and Kāneʻohe. As you know, the Lt. Gov. has focused on the health concerns of the homeless and is also working on other projects, like the Kauhale Village concept, and addressing a broad range of community needs.
On behalf of everyone involved in these efforts, I would like the Lt. Gov. to stand and be recognized.
BUILDING ON PROGRESS
While the joint package has been the focus of our attention, we are also continuing to work on other important areas as well.
Great things do not happen overnight. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, they begin with a vision to see things, not as they are, but as they might be.
The transformation of agriculture in Hawaiʻi from large plantations that exported sugar and pineapple to smaller more diversified farms that grow food for local consumption is such a vision. But it has taken a while.
The transition of our visitor industry from a sector that focuses on growth to one that embraces sustainability is just beginning. It, too, will take time.
In fact, the shift to sustainability in many of the things we pursue—including energy, economic development and the environment—will continue long after we are gone. That is why we cannot lose sight of those broader goals, no matter the obstacles, changes in administration, or how long the process.
AGRICULTURE AND SELF SUFFICIENCY
Perhaps the longest transition we have experienced recently has been the transformation of our agricultural industry from large-scale farming to more diversified farms.
But there is one important difference in today’s efforts from yesterday’s: And that’s technology. As in other fields, we have seen the rise of technology change the face of everything in society. In agriculture, it too has been a game changer. It has enabled farmers to produce higher yields in the field and more precise targeting strategies in the marketplace. Consequently, we are seeing a greater willingness to invest in local agricultural endeavors.
Over the last several weeks, we have seen a number of news articles on agricultural start-ups.
Mahi Pono, which bought 41,000 acres of former sugar cane land, is raising potatoes in central Maui. And they want to plant another 120 acres of citrus trees and 20 acres of non-GMO papayas. Their plans also include growing avocados, bell peppers, guava, lilikoi, oranges, lemons and limes.
Sensei Farms is transforming agriculture on Lanaʻi by using a mix of proven and innovative technology to power its hydroponic greenhouses on former pineapple fields. This mix of traditional farming and new technology is the wave of the future for agriculture throughout the state.
Mr. En Young of Sensei Farms is here with us today. Would you stand and be recognized?
More than at any other time in our history, local farmers have it within their grasp to make a difference in our drive toward self-sufficiency.
At this time, I would also like to acknowledge State senators Donovan Dela Cruz and Mike Gabbard and representatives Richard Onishi and Richard Creagan, who have long been strong advocates for agriculture in Hawaiʻi.
SUSTAINING OUR ECONOMY AND LIFESTYLE
You know, we can initiate a host of activities to encourage local food production, stimulate our economy, and protect our environment. But the key has always been whether we are able to keep those initiatives going. And so “sustainability” has been an integral part of our efforts.
How do we sustain our economy, our lifestyle and our natural environment? We do it first by developing clean energy sources.
With a flurry of commercial solar projects in the pipeline and local homeowners’ enthusiasm for residential solar power, we will meet our 2020 energy goal of attaining 30 percent of our energy needs from renewable sources.
The significance of this initial pivot to clean and renewable energy cannot be overstated.
We have become a leader in this effort, and our actions have inspired other states to follow. Since we set a goal to become carbon negative by 2045, four other states have followed our lead. So far, we have successfully reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and will meet our goal for 2020. And our utilities are meeting our clean electricity goals faster and at record low prices.
Today, 37 percent of Oʻahu’s single-family residences have rooftop solar. On certain days, Kauaʻi is already achieving 100 percent of electricity from clean energy sources, decades ahead of when we thought this would be possible.
We will continue to aggressively engage in actions that will continue to de-carbonize our economy and make our environment whole.
In commerce, sustaining our economy has replaced the old mantra of growing the economy. And in fact, we are already seeing a shift in focus in our biggest industry.
In 2019, the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority shifted its priorities from increasing visitor arrivals to improving the visitor experience, while supporting the quality of life for residents. Through HTA’s Aloha ʻĀina program, 28 nonprofit and government agencies were given funding for programs to help protect Hawaiʻi’s natural resources.
For example, the authority is working to repair and improve hiking trails like those at Mānoa Falls. Through its Kūkula Ola program, the authority has funded 28 programs this year and committed to fund 43 more programs in 2020 that perpetuate Hawaiian culture. The beneficiaries are programs and groups like the Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center, Hula Halau O Molokai, Hana Arts, the Edith K. Kanakaʻole Foundation, the Kalihi-Palama Culture & Arts Society, and so many more.
And while we are on the subject of Native Hawaiian culture, let me digress for just a moment and speak on the Thirty Meter Telescope and Mauna Kea.
Emotions have run high on both sides. The arguments are strong on both sides, and that’s what makes the situation so difficult. There is no easy answer or quick solution. We will have to work hard if we want to resolve this conflict. But I truly believe it can be resolved, if we put our heads and our hearts together.
There are some who have encouraged me to take strong measures against those who are protesting on Mauna Kea. That would have been the easier course. But it is not just the authority of the law that is at stake. It is much more than that.
What is also at risk is the glue that has always bound us together: our sense of aloha. It is the thing that underpins our laws and gives them meaning and an ethical foundation. That trust in each other is also sacred. And I will not break that bond, no matter how convenient or easy.
At the heart of our dilemma is both the history of wayfinding and discovery and the future of wayfinding and discovery. If we have lost our way, we must find our way back.
To do this, we must be open hearted, as well as open minded. We must listen, as well as speak with conviction, and we must have aloha for each other, in spite of our differences.
I am of that mind, and I ask all to join me in continuing to look for a way forward. I stand ready to work with any and everyone who refuses to let this issue divide us. Let us together find a way forward.
A NEW URGENCY FOR THE ʻĀINA
Like our host culture, we sustain our environment by protecting it.
Stewardship of the ʻāina has always been a central part of public policy here in Hawaiʻi. It is embedded in our state motto and in the awareness of our children from an early age. The life of our lands has always depended on right thinking and a love of this place we call home.
But there is a new danger threatening the ʻāina, and it comes from climate change. No one need tell us how global warming is directly impacting our lives or the lives of:
Families who live along the North Shore of Oʻahu, or
Those who suffered from recent historic storms on Kauaʻi, or
The people of West Maui, who were affected by unprecedented high tides, or
Those affected by devastating wildfires on The Valley Isle.
Recently, Time Magazine named Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year for 2019. She is a passionate and compelling youngster who believes we all have a part to play in preventing climate change. She sets an example for all of us.
I would like to challenge our own young students to think about Greta’s message to us. The adults in this room often talk about sustainability and the future. But for those under 21, it is more about your future than ours. It is never too early to take ownership of it.
Because it’s as much about everyday activities as it is about large or sweeping public policy. We can work with the Legislature to permanently set aside 10,000 acres in conservation under the State’s Legacy Land program, as we have over the last year and a half. We can mandate 100-percent clean energy usage by 2045. But without your involvement, public policy is just that: a policy written on a piece of paper. It is your support and daily participation that transforms those policies into meaningful actions.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask the graduates of KUPU, a nonprofit youth organization dedicated to making a difference in their communities. Ask Aziz Agis, a KUPU alumni who maintained and restored hiking trails on Oʻahu; or Sean McDonough, who spent his days assisting in the preservation of natural area reserves throughout Oʻahu.
Also with us today is John Leong, Director of KUPU.
I would like all of them to stand and be recognized for their contributions to making a difference in Hawaiʻi.
They are only a few years older than those of you who are still in school. The future will be here faster than you think. But you don’t have to wait for that day to come. These young folks have shown how you can make a difference right now.
CHANGING HAWAIʻI’S TRAJECTORY
As the saying goes, time waits for no man or woman—no matter how young or old.
We have much on our plate. Those on this floor know better than most, how arduous the journey is in laying the groundwork for a thriving community and a better life.
We also know that no one individual has all the answers. Government cannot do it alone. But what we cannot accomplish alone, we can with the help of others.
Here in Hawaiʻi, we intimately understand that truth. Throughout our history, we have tested it over and over again. During the plantation era, communities banded together to provide for each other when others would not. In the early 1900s, workers came together to fight for higher pay and better working conditions. Their efforts resulted in improving the work environment for all.
Today, at the start of a new decade, we have it within our power to change the lives of our working families. We have it within our power to change the trajectory of Hawaiʻi’s future. That is the underlying belief of this joint package by the House, the Senate, my administration, and the community.
There are cynics out there who will dismiss the notion of government working together. But working together: That’s what Hawaiʻi has always been about.
ʻOhana is not a cliché. It is about a whole body of values centered around family, in the largest sense of the word.
Our working families have taken it on the chin for far too long. They are the backbone of our workforce and the heart of our communities.
While some have opted to leave the islands, many have not: Because Hawaiʻi is not just a place to build a house. It is our home.
We all deserve a chance to earn a decent day’s wage for a decent day’s work.
We all deserve an opportunity to own a home of our own.
We deserve the best education for our children…
And, someday, the opportunity to see our grandchildren playing on our beaches.
More importantly, we, in government, owe it to every working family to give this our best shot.
Earlier, I recognized those who played a part in putting this joint package together. They took a chance and stood up for change. They delivered a package that’s aggressive and bold.
We must be just as aggressive and bold in making it happen. Half measures will only add up to half a loaf. It will not nurture our families.
I believe we can overcome the challenges facing us as a state and work together to create a better life for all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to put some skin in the game.
I believe in Hawaiʻi, and I believe in all of you. Let’s get to work.
Mahalo and aloha.