Thank you, Mr. Speaker, members and guests. It's an honor to have the opportunity to once again serve as this body’s Minority Leader and work with you, the Majority Leader and the rest of my colleagues on solutions to our state’s big problems.
In my past opening day speeches, I didn’t talk much about policy. Instead, I focused on the importance of working together and encouraging dialogue on EVERY policy. Mr. Speaker, you and your Majority have responded by listening to our ideas and incorporating our opinions. In this Legislature, like in our state, I think we know that there is strength in diversity.
That said, Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk a little more about issues because our present situation demands it. This session, we’re facing a sizeable budget deficit, and the natural inclination of government is always to raise revenues and cut spending to find immediate solutions to an impending problem. We may need to take some of those actions, Mr. Speaker, but we’d be doing a disservice to the people of Hawaii and future generations if that is ALL we do.
Two years ago when I got elected as Minority Leader, I mentioned that I was the first millennial to serve in this position. In 2016, I was also the youngest female in the country to hold a caucus leadership position. I give you these statistics to remind you that I speak for a growing demographic in this State who can no longer afford to live in a place that we grew up in and love. For us, Hawaii is not just paradise, it’s our home, and we can’t afford it anymore.
Mr. Speaker, we talk a lot about the cost of living. And, I know the Governor has already proposed tax increases on transportation, and I’m sure there will be other tax increases for us to consider. I hope that, if the Majority of this body chooses to act on those increases, that you will do so with caution and consider making those increases temporary.
As the Minority members, we will be proposing measures to encourage tax equality and lessen the tax burden on middle and lower income earners, recognizing that – in the face of a deficit – these may be long term ideas. But, as a body, we should never lose sight of the goal to make Hawaii more affordable for its residents.
In terms of affordability, Mr. Speaker, the biggest thing we can do this session to help local families is to address our rising housing costs. In 2015, a nationwide survey of cities found that Honolulu had the fourth-largest percentage of residents depart. When over 52% of a Hawaii resident’s income goes toward fixed costs like housing and transportation, we can conclude that housing prices are a major reason for residents, particularly young people, leaving our state.
This year, Mr. Speaker, you will see Minority members contributing a variety of measures that offer housing solutions for individuals and families at every level of need - from homeless individuals who need temporary housing to middle-income wage earners that want to buy their first home at an affordable price.
As a local economist pointed out, Hawaii has become a preferred place for the international 1 percent to buy property. This desire to purchase paradise is making it harder and harder for local residents to keep Hawaii their home. And, Mr. Speaker, we look forward to working with you and the Majority to reverse that trend.
Every year, this Legislature comes up with a handful of measures to address housing and homelessness, but those are not enough. By 2025, we will be short nearly 65,000 housing units in our state, and many of our local families will be priced out of their communities if we don’t increase our affordable housing inventory.
This, Mr. Speaker, is a crisis, and we need to start treating it like a crisis. Local families have watched this state become less and less affordable for decades. It’s time to find the political courage to take risks, pass REAL reform and solve that problem.
Together, we can take control of our future. We need to be leaders that listen to the needs of the people that we represent. We need to hear the concerns of the recent college graduate who has returned home only to find that their home has undervalued them in favor of out-of-state financiers and we need to find a way to take care of those working families who make an average wage, but can't make a sufficient living.
We were once a State that not only took care of everyday people, we made sure that they felt accomplished, and we made sure that anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status, saw a better life as something achievable and something to aspire to.
We can be that State again. We have difficult decisions in front of us, and most of those decisions will need to be made quickly. But a comprehensive plan to address housing at every level of need can’t be sidelined by a budget deficit.
We can’t keep planning our state’s economy in two year cycles. We may need some short term fixes, but we also need a long term economic plan. That long term plan MUST include making it easier for our young people, our working families and our retirees to stay and live in this state that they call home.
Mr. Speaker, we look forward to working with you and the majority on creating that long-term plan this session.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to close by acknowledging and thanking our Mililani High School students that are in the gallery and sitting with me on the floor today. Everything we do here is about making a better future for you.
Thank you for being here. And, thank you, Mr. Speaker, members and guests for listening.