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Ige requests $100M for housing programs

By Kevin Dayton; Star Advertiser; January 23, 2018

Gov. David Ige requested an additional $100 million from state lawmakers for housing programs Monday in his fourth State of the State speech, an address that lawmakers said was light on specific new proposals or major initiatives.

Ige also did not mention the ballistic missile attack false alarm that jolted the state Jan. 13 and dominated news coverage and public debate during the past week. That exclusion was criticized by House Republicans, but Ige said he felt it did not belong in his annual address to lawmakers and the public.

Ige said the state is “on track” to building 10,000 new housing units by 2020, and spent much of his election-year speech recapping his administration’s accomplishments in his first three years in office.

Ige reminded listeners in the packed gallery in the House chamber of the state Capitol that Hawaii boasts a tolerant and diverse citizenry, a healthy population, a booming tourism industry and an extremely low unemployment rate.

However, he acknowledged many Hawaii residents struggle to make ends ends meet with low-wage jobs in the state’s service- oriented economy.

As one specific key accomplishment for his administration, Ige recalled his 2016 pledge to install air conditioning or take other steps to cool 1,000 public schools classrooms in Hawaii. He said the state has actually been able to reduce the temperatures in 1,200 classrooms so far.

Ige also cited his administration’s efforts to oppose the immigration and other policies of Republican President Donald Trump, which has been a generally popular stance in heavily Democratic Hawaii.

“We have made our voice clear: Hawaii will not stand for the hateful and hurtful policies of the Trump White House,” he said. “We are doing more than any other state to stand up for what is right, such as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the Paris Climate Accord, and stop what is wrong, such as the travel ban and stopping transgender members of the military from defending our flag and our freedoms.”

Ige recounted some of the steps his administration has taken to limit pension and health care liabilities for public workers, to increase the state’s bond rating and boost the balance in the state “rainy day” budget reserve fund to $310 million.

Ige also said his administration has made headway on the hot-button issue of homelessness.

“Even in the tragedy that is homelessness, there are significant signs that these policies are starting to work,” Ige said in his prepared remarks. “Homelessness is down 9 percent statewide — the first decline in eight years.”

That last point was disputed by House Minority Floor Leader Gene Ward after Ige finished his speech. “Give me a break. Tell that to my constituents. … Not true,” said Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen’s Gate-Hawaii Kai).

Ward also said Ige’s credibility was undermined when he failed to mention the Jan. 13 nuclear scare, which Ward described as “the elephant in the room” because it is on people’s minds.

Ige told reporters after his speech that he not concerned that the fallout from the missile false alarm will detract from his legislative agenda.

“We will be advocating for the priorities that we believe that the people of Hawaii share,” he said, and emphasized that steps have been taken to ensure there is never another false alarm like it.

Ige’s fellow Democrats were not particularly enthusiastic about his speech. Ige is running for re-election this year in the Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, and much of the top leadership in both the House and Senate are supporting Hana­busa.

Senate leaders criticized the governor’s speech for lacking specific proposals or initiatives.

“It was the governor’s nod to the future generation and asking everyone to make sure we leave something intact for the next generation,” Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English said. “But he didn’t give us any road maps, didn’t give us direction on how we should accomplish that. Just a directive: This is what we should be doing.”

“That means that it’s really for the Legislature to figure out the policy to do all of this,” said English (D, Molokai-Lanai-East Maui).

It’s not clear whether the Senate will fully support Ige’s call for investing $100 million in affordable housing and another $15 million for homelessness initiatives.

“Last year we put a lot of money toward affordable housing and on homelessness. What we did was we moved the focus to making sure people don’t become homeless and trying to intervene earlier,” he said.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said that House leaders are “pleased that the House does line up with at least some of the governor’s priority areas: homelessness and housing.”

However, Saiki said he expects lawmakers will be a bit more inclined this year to micromanage the Ige administration. For example, in the past the Legislature simply appropriated lump sums for the Rental Housing Trust Fund, “and we’ve trusted that the administration spent those dollars wisely,” Saiki said.

“This year what you’ll probably see is the Legislature identifying particular projects that we believe should be implemented, and we will make the appropriations accordingly to fit those kinds of projects,” he said.

Saiki added that “the governor admittedly was pretty short on details this morning in his speech, so the Legislature is here to help fill in some of those details.”

Ige said the State of the State address is his chance to “provide some big ideas and talk to not only legislators, but really the people of the state of Hawaii.”

“I guess it’s always a balance in the speech whether I want to talk for two hours or 15 minutes, and really it’s about what we include and what we don’t have time for,” he said.

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