HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In his third State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie outlined plans to maximize the state's budget and economy by focusing on business innovation, food and energy security, and early childhood education.
Abercrombie discussed the state's financial outlook early in his speech, thanking taxpayers and businesses for "weathering [the] difficult times" of a recession, citing sacrifices such as pay cuts.
"Two years ago, our administration had just taken office amidst an extremely difficult fiscal and economic outlook," Abercrombie said. "But as a result of our collaborative efforts, shared sacrifice and judicious administrative action, we have made clear progress and are again looking at a healthy positive balance. Now, we must move from the status quo and provide for future generations of Hawaii."
Abercrombie proposed a $1.50 raise in the state's minimum wage, to $8.75, noting that that the state's $7.25 minimum hourly wage had not changed in over six years. The governor says that numerous other states that have higher minimum wage rates while also having "less to confront in terms of cost of living."
"Everyone is worthy of their labor," Abercrombie said.
The governor also proposed the creation of the "HI Growth Initiative," a state investment program focused on building an innovation ecosystem that supports entrepreneurial high growth businesses and creates high wage jobs for our people. The program will reportedly engage with the private sector to startup and grow creative and innovative companies.
"We intend to provide $20 million of state investment capital that will focus on the critical building blocks of research commercialization, entrepreneur mentoring and the mobilization of startup investment capital," said Abercrombie.
To strengthen the local agriculture industry, Abercrombie proposed aggressive promotion of state agency purchases of Hawaii agricultural products to provide a consistent and regular market for goods. The administration will also work to increase access to capital for local farmers and ranchers by expanding the state Department of Agriculture's loan programs.
Abercrombie said he would introduce a bill that called for an increased conveyance tax on real estate transactions involving properties valued at more than $2 million dollars to help generate increased revenue for watershed protection.
In response to the closure of Tesoro's refinery in Kapolei and the corresponding loss of 200 jobs, Gov. Abercrombie established a Hawaii Refinery Task Force, " a collaboration of government, energy industries and utilities," to help find solutions to new energy problems caused by the shut-down.
One of the energy solutions proposed by Abercrombie was Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, a resource he says will reduce energy costs and the state's carbon footprint.
"LNG will reduce energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint because the resource is abundant, available, and the technology exists for us to use it now," he said. "Our state, our residents, our constituents, our businesses and communities need relief. To do nothing puts everyone in the state at risk."
Abercrombie called the failure to address early childhood development and education in Hawaii "the greatest unfunded liability of all," saying that only 57 percent of students who enrolled in kindergarten across the state in 2012 had attended preschool and calling for "accessible and affordable" programs to better prepare children for their first day of school.
Abercrombie also said he planned on advocating for "significant investment and commitment to support" the state Department of Education, aiming to "provide each of our public school students with current curricular materials on a digital device, such as a tablet or laptop" within the next three years.
The governor vowed to re-open the Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island by July 1, 2014, helping to restore needed jobs and return the $5 million dollars a year currently spent on Hawaii inmates in Arizona.
"The new Kulani work with the University of Hawaii at Hilo to provide inmates who are two to four years from finishing their sentences, with the tools to prepare them to re-enter our communities as functioning and participatory members of our society," said Abercrombie.
In closing, Abercrombie acknowledged the difficulties ahead and called for action from state legislators.
"If it was easy to solve these questions, we wouldn't be dealing with them," Abercrombie said. "Let us resolve not to get lost in the noise of the moment. Rather, let us seize the moment to act with confidence in ourselves, confidence in the people of Hawaii and confidence in a future we determine."
After Abercrombie's address concluded, Hawaii Republicans reacted to the governor's plans.
"We have important problems that we do need to deal with, and it is important that [Gov. Abercrombie] is addressing the issues," said David Chang, Chair of the Hawaii Republican Party. "The key point will be to find out how much addressing them is going to cost. We are already heavily indebted. We have to pay for the $800 million that we borrowed to balance the budget, as well as replenish the Rainy Day and Hurricane funds."
Chang spoke specifically about revamping current programs instead of creating new ones.
"While it is important to deal with these issues, we should look towards spending our money more efficiently," said Chang. "We should manage existing programs more efficiently and make sure we handle these problems at the core."