Gov. David Ige delivered his sixth State of the State address Tuesday, laying out details about efforts worked out with legislative leaders that aim to address Hawaii's high cost of living in areas that include housing and child care.
The speech comes as Hawaii recorded the third year of a declining population, a trend driven in part by an exodus of residents seeking higher salaries and lower costs of living on the Mainland.
The governor said his administration and Democratic-majority lawmakers agreed that more needs to be done for working families. But he also noted that increases to the state minimum wage can raise the cost of living. "The two are joined at the hip," he said.
The governor proposed a "modest increase" in the minimum wage over time along with targeted tax relief that he said could result in a benefit of $4,400 to each worker annually." The current $10.10 an hour minimum would rise to $13 by 2024 under the proposal.
Housing And Homeless
Ige said increasing cost of Hawaii homes is driven by the cost of land and real estate speculation. He said the administration and legislators package calls for building 17,000 affordable homes on state land over the next 10 years working with private developers.
Because these would be leasehold homes, developers would be spared the biggest cost of building housing, he said. But the state would be able to keep the homes affordable by allowing leaseholders to "reasonably share" in the equity when they are ready to sell.
"In this way, we can also ensure that the leasehold property stays affordable forever," he said.
The governor said his administration is also proposing to invest $200 million in roads and infrastructure to increase interest in the University of Hawaii's 4,000-unit housing development plans for the West Oahu campus.
Ige also wants to streamline the permit process for affordable housing and provide $75 million for Neighbor Island affordable housing.
The governor said the state has been able to move over 600 homeless individuals on average each month into permanent housing. "When it comes to homelessness, progress is really measured one person and one family at a time," he said.
The governor addressed the continuing protest on Mauna Kea against the Thirty Meter Telescope, a controversy that has divided the community and cost over $11 million in law enforcement expenses.
"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," the governor said in his prepared speech. "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."
He said there is no easy answer to the dispute, adding: "But I truly believe it can be resolved, if we put our heads and our hearts together."
There is a "new danger threatening the ʻāina, and it comes from climate change," Ige said. He noted global warming is already impacting families on the North Shore of Oahu, Kauai residents hit by historic storms on the island and people on Maui coping with wildfires.
He said the state can mandate 100% clean energy use by 2045, but support and participation by residents are needed to transform policy into action. He challenged Hawaii students to take the lead of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in working to address climate change.
Noting that about 20,000 toddlers have no access to childcare or preschool programs, Ige set out a goal of eliminating the gap by the end of the decade. "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," he said.
He also said instead of relying on tax dollars exclusively, "why not leverage those funds through partnerships with private and nonprofit groups?" He said education is the foundation of the state economy and 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."
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates later today.