Today, Governor Ige delivered his first State of the State address. His speech had some commonality with Republicans both past and present. He emphasized finding efficiencies in government, transferring more power to principals for their specific schools, developing public-private partnerships to improve housing, and offering incentives to start-up businesses.
Overall, Ige’s speech offered a general outline of his agenda for year, and the specifics will become evident soon as the legislative session moves forward. As of now, here are a few of the Minority’s outstanding questions or areas of his speech where we think more details are necessary:
1) “Making government more efficient. I cannot stress how important I believe this one factor is.”
Governor Ige’s announced paperless initiative and tax modernization system are good steps toward cutting spending, but balancing the budget through “efficiencies” is usually a code word for labor reductions. If Governor Ige intends to make a significant dent in the existing budget while maintaining our existing social safety net, he may be forced, like previous governors, to consider a reduction in force. Public workers, who have already endured painful reductions, need to be paying attention to the details of these efficiency proposals.
2) “Federal officials tell me there is significant money – about $940 million – available to the state for the right projects, proposed for the right reasons and at the right time.”
During his first State of the State speech in 2011, Governor Abercrombie announced the “Hawaii Fair Share Initiative” to be led by then-Lt. Governor Schatz. The initiative was intended to focus on identifying areas where Hawaii could receive federal funding. A better understanding of the success of that initiative would help the public better gauge the efficacy of Governor Ige’s current initiative and the likelihood of its eventually success.
3) “This governor wants rail to succeed and I’m committed to it. Having said that, let’s also make sure we do things the right way for the right reasons, including cost containment, before we ask for more money.”
Our Republican caucus has diverse opinions on rail, but we can all agree that cost containment is crucial. Given the complicated jurisdictional issues between the City and State on this project, Governor Ige’s specific proposals could be met with some resistance by those inside and outside the Legislature, and it will be interesting to see how his proposals will navigate that terrain.
4) “Public-private partnerships offer great potential, but only if they’re shaped in the right way. But no matter our direction, changing how we operate our hospitals to meet changing needs will be key to any long-term solution.”
The idea of changing our state hospital system into a public-private partnership isn’t new, but in past sessions, the Legislature has not been able to come to an agreement on a structure for that partnership. Any change is likely to benefit some interest groups but negatively impact others so the details of Governor Ige’s proposal, once presented, could still have difficultly in the Legislature.
5) “We will need to be proactive and aggressive in our efforts to support our troops here. And I am prepared to do just that.”
A resolution to support keeping our troops in Hawaii gained a lot of debate on the House floor last week, and dissenting comments were representative of a segment of Hawaii’s population that opposes military training in Hawaii. Governor Ige’s plan to be “proactive and aggressive” to support our troops could upset those, many from within his own party, who favor a decrease in military presence.
6) “We need to fulfill our obligations to our host culture whose sense of aloha influences everything we do.”
Governor Ige didn’t mention the details of how his administration would seek to fulfill obligations to our host culture. He could be referring to Kakaako lands that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs would like to develop as part of their ceded lands settlement. However, throwing his support behind the development may only further upset environmental lobbyists who are already angered by his choice to appoint a development executive to oversee the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
7) “I challenge the leaders of public education to stop issuing mandates from the state office and to focus on empowering schools and delivering resources to the school level.”
Past efforts to decentralize the Department of Education have been unsuccessful, but Governor Ige’s experience may give him a unique opportunity to restructure the department in a way that will satisfy all stakeholders. Though he’s talked mainly about getting funding directly to principals, it will be interesting to see if his concern over mandates will extend to national directives like Common Core. Though mostly opposed by conservative organizations who prefer school flexibility, Common Core has started to gain some opposition from Democrats.