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Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

Posted on Aug 22, 2017 in Main

Remarks of Governor David Ige

June 30, 2017 at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Ballroom

It’s terrific to be back on Hawai‘i Island, I look forward to this event every year because it gives me a chance to meet and speak with so many of you.  We have been working very hard in our community meetings and I am proud that we heard you and have made progress in so many different areas. I am very proud with the results we have had working with the Chamber and all of you to improve the lives on the west side of Hawai‘i island. I am truly proud of all the things that we have been able to accomplish over 2 and a 1/2 years as your governor.

The Kona Judiciary Complex is an important investment in the justice system which was long overdue on the west side. I am definitely proud that we were able to start that when I was chairman of Ways and Means, working with Senator Inouye and Representative Lowen and all of your elected officials here on the west side, to make it a priority and ensure that we get the funds needed to complete the project.

I have been committed to restoring international service here at Kona airport on the very first day that I took office. I understand that expanding international service not only benefits the community here in Kona, but really does provide for a more robust visitor industry in the State of Hawai‘i. Honolulu International Airport is the fourth busiest international port of entry in the country, only behind Kennedy, LA and Chicago.

Honolulu already receives more international travel than many other cities across the country. Not only would international service benefit the community on the west side, but it allows us to access a market for direct international flights into this community. More importantly, it allows us to have a more diverse portfolio. If something should ever happen and we shut down international flights into Honolulu, even if it is for a short period, the fact that Kona International Airport is certified to receive international visitors really allows us to continue receiving international guests.

I am so proud that we got the numbers we did for the first half of the year. Through May, visitor arrivals are up 13 percent and most importantly, visitor spending is up almost 20 percent on the island of Hawai‘i. I am excited and was hoping to make the announcement here in west Hawai‘i that Japan Airlines is restoring daily direct flights to Kona in a couple more weeks. So not only would we see Hawaiian Airlines flights three times a week, but Japan Airlines will be starting daily direct service to Kona International Airport. This will increase the visitor traffic here on the west side.

As I got into office, I know and I heard from many of you about the traffic challenges on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. I know for many years that the project has been stalled and it took us about six months to really gear up, but we got it going. I just wanted to let you know that I called Ford and said, “Ford, you need to get on this because we already talked about moving forward with this project.”  There were some challenges and cultural issues that were identified but Ford was able to work through that and after a brief respite, we were able to restart Queen Kaahumanu Phase Two and hopefully we can get through and complete the project.

We just concluded the legislative session when more than 200 bills were passed. I want to thank Representative Lowen, Representative Creagan, Senator Inouye and the rest of the Hawai‘i island delegation for their support and cooperation. I talked to many people across the state and there is a lot less drama at the State Capitol because I work well with the legislators and we have lots of conversations when we have disagreements. Most importantly, we cooperate and we find common ground on many issues and are able to accomplish a lot of things without being in the headlines and without fighting through the press.

We are in the process of signing many bills and I will be signing a bill this afternoon to fund continued support of the coffee industry here because I know how important that is. There are a number of bills that I will be looking at vetoing, and I have identified 15 that I have concerns about and have informed the Legislature that they may be subject to veto. I emphasize that the majority of measures that have been passed by the Legislature will be signed before the July 11th deadline.

The budget is the most important policy document and there are a lot of great things that we work on together with the Legislature. When I started the budget process about this time last year, there were projections for robust revenue growth. The growth at that time was for general fund revenues to increase by 4 and a 1/2 percent, which is about $250 million. As we get to the close of the fiscal year, we are exceeding what has actually been received and collected. We have come to understand that we don’t have as much money as we thought. The budget perspective, the difference between this time last year and the reality of this year, is about $800 million less than what we have to spend. This is a budget of about $5.5 billion, so this is a significant reduction in available resources. Even in spite of that, we made tremendous process in restoring our fiscal foundation.

We are continuing to pay down the unfunded liabilities that our public servants have earned. I made it a priority for me to not kick the can down the road, to own up to those responsibilities, those commitments that we made to our public servants and to ensure that we will not tax the next generation to pay for promises made today. And our commitment to pre-funding the unfunded liability to our public servants has already saved you as a taxpayer more than $1.5 billion over the next 20 years. I know that making payments really reduces the tax liability in the future.

It has been very important to me to really put first things first, and to put our financial house in order. I am proud to report to you that the State of Hawai‘i bond rating has been upgraded to the highest level that it has been In the history of the State of Hawai‘i. We have gone up successfully to float bonds in the 2 and a 1/2 years of my administration. And in each bond issue, we have been able to refinance high interest bonds to save money and I think most importantly, to get interest rates that allow us to do more infrastructure projects on your behalf. To date, we have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in financing costs.

We continue to make our commitment to public education. I truly believe that public education enables each and every one of our young people to pursue their dreams. We completed the first education summit in decades to talk about what the future of education should be. How can we ensure that each and every student has access to effective education that allows them to find careers and be successful in our communities.

We completed the blueprint for public education that summarizes what our commitment is to our children, and we are on the verge of starting with a new superintendent who will be coming on board in a month or so. We are excited about the opportunity that she brings. I know that she is committed to the classroom and learning, and to ensuring that those closest to the children make the most important educational decisions on behalf of our students.

Most importantly, it really comes from the commitment that it is not about one size fits all. The public schools in our community really needs to be a reflection of the priorities in that community. Yes, they need to provide access to learning skills that allow them to be successful in a global economy. Most importantly, it has to be a reflection of the learning and priorities that are most important to that community. We have made education and investing in our communities one of the highest priories of my administration.

I am proud that we were able to complete the first phase of Palamanui. I know the west side of Hawai‘i has wanted a higher education facility for decades and was glad that were able to complete that so those on the west side have access to higher education opportunities. I know that we are getting very close to completing the Waimea Middle School science, technology, engineering, and math building. I was able to visit that project and I am excited and wish I could be a student again. To talk to the teachers, to look at what the plans are, to ensure the students have access to the things they need to challenge themselves, to be challenged by teachers, to make sure they can experience all of those project-based learning opportunities that is so important to our young people to give them the chance to be the best they can be. It really is critical and I’m glad to see that they will be coming online.

We have been investing in the early college program and are committed to ensuring all high schools can have access to early college. We are working to make sure the high schools on Hawai‘i island have the program. I know most of them have already started. What is early college? Early college is challenging our motivated young people with college-level curriculum and courses. Early college is our commitment to give interested students the opportunity to start taking college credits as a high school student. I am excited about this possibility because we are getting to the first cohorts of this college program. During graduation of 2018, we will have high school students graduating with associate of art degrees before they receive their high school diploma because community colleges usually have their graduation ahead of the public schools.

I am on a mission for early college because I believe it gives me, as governor, a competitive advantage to keep our best students in our public education system. The private schools can’t do what we do in early college. For us to give our students in every high school across the state, the ability to take college-level courses at the same time they’re earning high school credit really saves you and me a lot of money because we won’t be paying tuition. They will be able to earn college credits as they are doing work that satisfies their high school requirements. Most importantly, they will be graduating two years ahead of the curve and really only need 2 years to finish a bachelor’s degree. I am really proud of that program and I just wanted to thank the Legislature for supporting it.

One other investment in education that I think is important is Hawai‘i’s Promise. We are working with the University of Hawai‘i to ensure that each and every student who wants to go on in to higher education will not be stopped because of their inability to pay the cost of education. Hawai‘i’s Promise is a guarantee that we will make up the difference between what you can afford to pay and what the cost is at a community college, and to ensure that every student who wants to be in college is able to do it and will not be prohibited cause they don’t have the money to do it. The Legislature supported our request to allow every single person in our community who wants to move on to community college to be able to do it and not be stopped because they can’t afford it.

We continue to make investments in our public schools, and our Legislature appropriated about half of the construction money that we authorized in this year’s budget, which is more than $800 million, to  be put into and invested in our public schools, just like that project up at Waimea Middle School.  There are many projects making significant investments in infrastructure in each and every one of the schools on Hawai‘i island.

I have been a big proponent on air conditioning in our schools, and making sure that the environment is conducive to learning. This has been a statewide effort to complete heat abatement, air conditioning, and fans in more than a thousand classrooms and we are getting to the very end of it.  By the end of summer, more than a thousand classrooms will be completed and ready for students to show up when the school year starts this fall. It really is about making a commitment and making sure that our children have the best opportunity to learn.

Another priority of mine is a joint project with the counties to tackle homelessness. My focus has been working with all levels of government, federal, state and county, in partnership, to leverage and create synergy from the different assets that we bring to the challenges of homelessness. We have been working to exercise the pre-levers of change that can make a difference and reduce homelessness in our community. The first is about affordable housing, we have a housing crisis and my goal is to complete 10,000 housing units by the year 2020. That is more than what has been done in the last 10 years but it  is a commitment and I understand that housing and affordable housing is connected to the homelessness crisis that we have.

We already completed a thousand housing units to date. We have 4,000 more in the pipeline that should be completed in the next 18 months. I requested and the Legislature has made investments in the rental housing revolving fund and the dwelling unit revolving fund, which allow us to invest in affordable rentals all across the state. We have a number of affordable rentals here on Hawai‘i island in the process. I was so proud to break ground at Kamakana at Keahuolu with 160 affordable senior units and family units right here on the west side. We have been making progress on Hawaiian homelands and have broken ground for Kailua-Kona, Laiopua Village 4 Subdivision, Phase One.

We still have much more work to do but with the legislative support, we are investing another $80 million in affordable rentals all across the state because we know it makes a difference in the homeless challenge. We have been focused on bringing and developing affordable rentals all across the state. For the first time after decades of increasing homeless numbers, for the first time in eight years, we actually have a decrease in the point in time in Hawai‘i and I’m proud of that, a 9 percent decrease statewide. And most importantly, a 32 percent decrease of homelessness here on Hawai‘i island. I wanted to thank the Legislature, the mayor, who have been terrific partners, in our challenge of homelessness.

We definitely are making progress, we need to continue the focus on getting federal, state, and county partners to work together, working with the private sector providers, making sure that the focus is really about making the system work. Emergency shelter shouldn’t take somebody off the street and keep them in the shelter for five years. It really is about getting them placed in permanent housing. That’s the Housing First model that has been so successful across the country that we are focused on. We really  believe that we are making progress and can continue to make progress, only if we work together. Homelessness is a challenge that all of us–government, private sectors, private service providers–need to work together in order for us to make a difference. Thank you so much for helping us be successful.

I’m just going to talk a little bit about sustainability because I really do believe that it is an opportunity to change our economy. Last year, at the World Conservation Congress I announced our sustainability initiative. It truly is about a focus on managing our natural resources better. I understand that the beauty and the environment here in Hawai‘i is what drives our visitor industry. I can tell you without all of the natural beauty, we would have a much more difficult time in attracting the 9 million visitors that come to our state today.

We have been looking at a number of things in terms of sustainability, and there are five different elements in that program. The first is really about managing our ocean resources, and as you know and should be proud of, west Hawai‘i is the first managed fishery and ocean area in the state. It really is about a balance of creating protected areas, where no fishing and no taking is allowed and open areas where fishing is allowed. We are committed to producing and duplicating the successes here on the west side to all of the ocean areas across the state. We know that if we were smart about managing our ocean resources, we can ensure that our ocean resources will be available to the next generation.

We are committed to managing our water sheds. The State of Hawai‘i Initiative is about managing 30 percent of our watersheds. The science is that if we can manage 30 percent of our watersheds, we should have access to clean water forever. We are making progress and the Legislature has been supportive as we make investments allowing us to protect the watersheds and ensure access to clean water going forward.

The third program is really about food sustainability and our commitment to double food production here in the state of Hawai‘i. We only produce about 9 percent of the food that’s consumed and the goal is to increase that to 20 percent. What that really would require is supporting agriculture at all levels, whether it is the small family farmer to those who would want to produce food for consumption all around the state. It is about supporting those small farmers and all farmers with food security and safety. We need to make sure that all of the security measures are adhered to so that when you purchase food that is locally grown, you can be sure that it’s safe. We are committed to ensuring that we can double food production at the same time managing our environment. Ensuring that means we can continue to have clean water, water for all of our community. That’s the third goal.

The fourth goal is about what we all embrace, the notion of a clean energy future, 100 percent renewable energy for electricity generation. I know the Big Island is ahead of the rest of the state, I know the last statistics that I saw, Hawai‘i island is more than 50 percent already renewable. I look forward to working with all of you as we make progress. We made tremendous progress in the last 6 years and we are well ahead of schedule in our commitment to a clean energy future.

The fifth program really deals with invasive species and stopping the spread of invasive species throughout our community. It really is identifying an invasive species and preventing them from getting into Hawai‘i and most importantly, once an invasive species is identified, to really be proactive and exterminate them before they get established. I know you on the Big Island are very much aware of the challenges of what that is. We have proposed an interagency biosecurity plan that we believe will allow us to stop invasive species from becoming established and wreaking havoc in our community.

I am proud of the progress that we made in all of these areas. I really look forward to working with all of you. I’ve heard from many of you about the challenges here on the Big Island. I think we responded in so many ways. Our commitment to making your lives here in west Hawai‘i and the island of Hawai‘i a much more diverse, vibrant and economic opportunity. We continue to make those investments. I am committed to creating jobs in the communities. I believe in innovation and I think it really drives our economy.

As Jane Sawyer had talked about, it really is about small business and supporting small businesses throughout our economy. I am excited about the global virtual studio, a Kona-based startup business which is taking the world by storm.  It really is about being able to take digital media and content from any platform and prepare it to be distributed all around the world. Global virtual studio is an example of how we, here in Hawai‘i, can do anything that we set out to do. The fact that the Small Business of the Year in the United States of America is a Maui brewing company, the third small business from Hawai‘i, to be the national Small Business Person of the Year. It means that we, in Hawai‘i, can be successful on a global stage.

I am really proud that all of us here make a commitment to a better community. It really is the people, place and culture that make Hawai‘i special. It makes what we want to call Hawai‘i home. We cherish the diversity and celebrate the traditions and new introductions of the rich cultural mix that makes Hawai‘i what it is today. I am proud to be governor of the state of Hawai‘i in challenging the president.  I believe that his ban on immigrants from mostly Muslim countries really discriminates on ethnic origin and religion. I think we need to stand up when we believe a wrong is created.

I am proud to be the first governor to sign the bill, the first state in the country to commit to the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and to really put in place our commitment to reduce green house gases and increase carbon capture. When I went to the Western Governors Association meeting earlier this week, so many of the other states were interested in understanding why we did it and how they could join.

I think everyone all across the country understands that global warming is real, climate change is real. We have seen the impact on rising sea temperatures all around the world. We all know that we need to stand up and be counted because if we don’t, we will get to a point where you are too far gone and the world will be irrevocably damaged. We are definitely committed to ­­­stopping that.

I am just so proud to be your governor, I enjoyed the time here on Hawai‘i island especially on the west side, I’ve enjoyed the many conversations we’ve had in community meetings and events like this. I’ve heard your concerns and your challenges and I think we delivered solutions that help make your community stronger and better in a wide variety of ways. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to serve as your governor and I look forward to continuing to work with you as we make our community better.

Mahalo and aloha.