POIPU — In front of a crowd of nearly 300 people at the 19th annual Governor’s Luncheon at Koloa Landing Resort, Gov. David Ige said collaboration with county and state officials and the Legislature made a difference.
“In Hawaii, there is a bigger and better sense of community rather than individual divisiveness that truly permeates Washington, D.C., and across the country,” Ige said Thursday.
With about 200 bills passed in the Legislature, Ige said this year’s session was productive, yet challenging.
“The state budget is the most important policy document that we work on any given session because it truly sets the priorities … of our state government,” Ige said. “You don’t make the deadlines arguing about things. We really are speaking and talking about things all the way to session, trying to share priorities so that we can make as many things happen as we can.”
When budget preparations started this time last year, Ige said the state was expecting revenue to increase 5 percent.
The reality, however, was a stark contrast.
“The difference between when it started and when the Legislature ended was about $800 million less than the Legislature had to work with,” he said. “It was a challenging year for various reasons, but we’re still proud of the work we were able to do.”
Early College and the Hawaii Promise Program are two initiatives Ige said are preparing young people to thrive in the 21st century.
The former would allow high school students to be enrolled in dual credit, where they can earn college credit while attending high school.
“It allows us to keep the best and brightest in our public school system.” he said.
The Hawaii Promise Program would assure access to higher education for Hawaii residents regardless of their ability to pay, Ige said.
“We will provide a scholarship so the difference between what somebody can pay and what the actual cost of attending community college is (possible) as long you are motivated and want to get higher education,” he said.
With affordable housing, Ige said the Legislature approved his request for $25 million for the dwelling unit revolving fund and $19.4 million toward Hawaiian homestead lots.
“The only way for us to tackle homelessness is to look for homes for all people at all price points in the spectrum,” he said. “It’s about finding the best solution and the best environment for someone to go from homelessness to permanent housing.”
Ige said stopping people from becoming homeless helped curb the housing crises. The state saw a 9 percent decrease in homelessness this year compared to last. Kauai mirrored the same percentage, Ige said.
“We executed a unique partnership with Aloha United Way and the legal community to really stop evictions,” Ige said
Over the last 12 months, Ige said 2,900 evictions were prevented across the state, a reduction of 25 percent.
“It really is about looking at all the different aspects of housing and making sure that we can produce more and support those to get into housing,” he said.
Ige recognizes the importance of natural resources to the way of life in the state.
With statewide annual spending of $5 billion on importing fossil fuels and $2 billion importing food and goods, Ige would like to see that money reinvested in Hawaii.
“If we can generate those activities and resources within Hawaii … sustainability would be the third-largest industry in Hawaii. Instantly,” Ige said. “It’s more than just being good to the environment. It’s about changing our whole economy and being able to move forward.”
Ige said the state cannot continue to burn through natural resources.
Ige’s Hawaii Sustainable Initiative protects watersheds and ocean resources, doubles food production, create an interagency-invasive species biosecurity plan and aims for 100 percent clean energy.
“Kauai gets to be 98 percent renewable during peaks hours of the day,” Ige said. “It really is about leading by example. As your governor, I am committed to ensuring that Hawaii continues to lead the way.”