Governor’s ‘bold’ State of the State includes blueprint for free public preschool

Gov. David Ige presented his State of the State address Tuesday before Hawaii lawmakers....
Gov. David Ige presented his State of the State address Tuesday before Hawaii lawmakers. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jan. 22, 2019 at 5:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In his fifth State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. David Ige outlined an ambitious agenda for his second term, pledging to dramatically expand the state-funded preschool program, increase the inventory of affordable housing and bring the minimum wage in the islands “closer to a living wage.”

He also said that Hawaii should embrace its role as a leader in decreasing its carbon footprint and prepare for the impacts of global warming.

“I am mindful that the world around us has changed since we began this journey four years ago,” Ige told state lawmakers and other dignitaries on Tuesday morning.

“The very thing that makes us more connected with the rest of the world, also makes us more vulnerable to its slings and arrows, including what happens in our nation’s capital. More than ever, we need to take control and shape our own destiny through education and innovation.”

Perhaps the headline of Ige’s speech is his plans for early education.

The governor said it’s time for Hawaii to make good on its pledges to create a universal public preschool program.

And to move toward that goal — ultimately adding about 300 public pre-kindergarten classrooms — Ige wants to restructure schools that are currently kindergarten through sixth grade to pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

He said about half of elementary schools currently offer sixth grade.

“The phasing in of our public preschools will give us the time to ensure that we have well qualified preschool teachers to staff these classes,” he said.

Colin Moore, HNN political analyst, called the proposal “bold" and said while the governor didn’t explain how the preschool program would be funded, it’s something that could end up defining his legacy.

“I think this is one of the best State of the State addresses he’s given," Moore said.

“He really does have some clear proposals that are easy for folks to understand. One of the things the governor has realized is that communication can give you political power.”

Also in his speech, Ige said he’d submit legislation to bring Hawaii’s minimum closer to a “living wage.”

Hawaii’s minimum wage currently stands at $10.10 an hour, while its “living wage” is estimated to be about $15 an hour to cover the expenses for a single adult.

Other highlights of the State of the State:

  • The governor wants to build and sell condominiums on state lands that would be leased out for 99 years. The properties include parcels along the rail transit route.
  • Ige is also proposing doing away with the $103 million cap on the hotel rooms tax, potentially sending more funds to the counties.
  • And the governor wants to “rethink” how Hawaii’s correctional facilities operate, helping inmates “seek a second chance at becoming a contributing member of society."

House and Senate leaders agreed that the governor’s address was one of his best, but they say they have questions about funding and resources.

“We’ll cooperate with the governor, but when it comes down to, it we control the purse,” said State Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee.

Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim, along with neighbor island lawmakers, says they were pleased to hear Ige wants to remove the cap on the counties' share of the state hotel room tax.

Right now, the cap is set at $103 million, but under Ige’s proposal, the counties will receive a straight percentage of the total taxes collected.

“If it’s real, music to my ears,” said Kim. “We were looking for a percentage of the whole that was fair.”

But House Speaker Scott Saiki says it's not that simple.

Saiki says without the cap, the counties could share as much as an additional $380 million dollars a year -- money that has been going to the state treasury.

“We would have to know how to deal with a $380 million loss. And when you factor that in the governor’s other proposals that were made today, I’m not sure how you would pay for new initiatives,” Saiki said.

The governor delivered his address in a dramatically different position than he was just a year ago.

His 2018 State of the State came about a week after the false missile alert, and he was facing mounting questions about his leadership.

Several political onlookers described that address as a missed opportunity to reassure the state and demonstrate to lawmakers that he could do better.

But in August, Ige survived a Democratic primary challenge from former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. And in November, he handily bested Republican opponent Andria Tupola.

That likely accounts for why Tuesday’s State of the State showcased a much more confident governor — who thanked his supporters but also pledged to work collaboratively with the full Legislature to get things done.

“To realize our goals, it will take more than just this administration, more than government, more than the private sector, or community service and nonprofit organizations. It will take all of us,” he said.

Ige offered a preview of his 2019 State of the State in December, after being sworn into a second term. He touched on his plans for public education, the environment and the economy.

And he ended his speech with a swipe against President Trump, saying the White House is taking the nation in a “troubling” direction.

“These are exciting times full of wonderful changes and great opportunities. But they are also dangerous times — not just for Hawaii, but for our nation and the principles upon which this country was founded,” Ige said.

This story will be updated.

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