HONOLULU – In his fourth State of the State Address before the Hawaii Legislature, Gov. Neil Abercrombie emphasized the state’s restored financial stability, along with his administration’s long-term plan to sustain it, as an opportunity to act with confidence on key investments in Hawaii’s future. Areas highlighted by the Governor included efforts to expand early childhood education; tax relief and support for seniors; an increase in the minimum wage; and collaborative efforts to address homelessness, climate change, and invasive species.
“I am able to report to you, our state government’s financial house now stands on solid ground,” Gov. Abercrombie said, extending his appreciation to legislators, public employees, local businesses, and the people of Hawaii for sharing in the tough decisions and sacrifices that made the state’s unprecedented financial turnaround possible. “We are now entering a new phase. The administration’s package and supplemental budget do not rely on any new taxes or fees. On the contrary, I believe we may be able to reduce taxes in key areas. We also have the resources to deliver services to the people of Hawaii while living within our means.”
The Governor reaffirmed his administration’s steadfast commitment to early childhood development and education, saying he looks forward to building upon his ongoing initiatives by strengthening relationships with the private and nonprofit sectors. “Our plan is to build and strengthen Hawaii’s mixed-delivery system of early learning programs,” he said. “Community-based preschools are now and will be a key component.”
Gov. Abercrombie also emphasized the necessity to match investments in building this foundation with consideration of ways to promote security and dignity for Hawaii’s seniors. To provide practical and immediate benefits, the Governor proposed to:
· exempt any presently taxed income from all sources for taxpayers age 65 and older with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $25,000, $35,000 for seniors who are heads of households, or $45,000 for seniors joint filing (affecting approximately 25,000 Hawaii seniors);
· double the current refundable food/excise tax credit for taxpayers 65 years or older whose AGI is less than $50,000 (affecting approximately 110,000 Hawaii seniors); and
· increase the Kupuna Care budget by $4.2 million and make it permanent (enabling seniors to remain in and receive care in their homes – an investment that will prove beneficial as our senior population ages, grows in numbers, and lives longer).
“These proposals address the practical everyday reality of expenses for seniors, provide across-the-board fairness in application, can take effect immediately, and fit comfortably into our long-term financial stabilization plan,” he said.
In addition, the Governor announced that his administration will be submitting a bill to increase the minimum wage to at least $8.75 starting in January 2015. Average weekly earnings have increased 16 percent since 2007, while the minimum wage has remained unchanged. Currently, 21 other states plus the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates than Hawaii while minimum wage earners in the state are confronted by much higher living costs.
Addressing the “myth” that increases to the minimum wage only benefit entry-level workers, the Governor cited that 85 percent of minimum wage earners are 21 years old or older. He added that the last four times the minimum wage was raised, the number of jobs increased by an average of 2.2 percent over the following 12 months.
To address the ongoing issue of homelessness, the Governor urged legislators to join him in support of the action plan submitted by the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, a first-of-its-kind body established by Gov. Abercrombie in 2011.
“Mayors and county councils across the state are united in coming to grips with this issue,” he said. “On Oahu, where the need is greatest, we could not have a better partner than Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the City Council led by Council Chair Ernie Martin. “We must now deliver on the Council’s plan; for example, by giving support to the ‘Housing First’ program, which houses and cares for the chronically homeless and those who suffer from a disability.”
Recognizing Hawaii’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, the Governor, recently appointed to President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, announced that he will be holding Resilient Hawaii Forums this year to engage stakeholders and create a climate change roadmap for Hawaii. The forums will build upon the significant progress already achieved by the state Office of Planning in updating Hawaii’s Ocean Resources Management Plan, and call on the state’s new sustainability coordinator to work across department lines for planning.
The Governor also emphasized the need to protect Hawaii’s environment from invasive species, endorsing legislative initiatives proposing up to $5 million to meet operating costs of invasive species programs. In addition, his administrative package this session will include additional support for watershed protection, farming infrastructure and invasive species management.
The Governor concluded his address by remembering the late Loretta Fuddy, a lifelong supporter and advocate of public health measures. Recalling her affection and advocacy for families and children, the Governor announced his intent to request additional funding for the Department of Health’s Early Intervention Services. The program provides critical services to children with developmental delays from birth to three years of age, as well as positive intervention in the crucial areas of cognitive and physical function, social and emotional well-being and adaptive skills.
“Loretta Fuddy was their champion,” the Governor said. “I am asking for specific attention to make funding for Early Intervention Services a priority. This will serve as a fitting tribute and appropriate legacy to honor Loretta. There will be lasting benefits for the affected families and children – the children she loved and cared for passionately to her last day.”
The entire text of the State of the State Address is posted on the Governor’s website, http://governor.hawaii.gov. Link directly to the address here: http://governor.hawaii.gov/blog/2014-state-of-the-state-address/
HONOLULU – Gov. Neil Abercrombie today commented on the state Council on Revenues’ revised forecast, which includes an amended growth rate projection for fiscal year 2014 from 4.1 to 3.3 percent while leaving growth rates for fiscal year 2015 and beyond unchanged.
The Governor stated: “My administration has submitted a supplemental budget that is able to accommodate revenue fluctuations – even slight declines – while furthering our initiatives to provide enhanced public services, recapitalize state reserves, address long-term liabilities, invest in public infrastructure,
and support preservation efforts.
“The Council on Revenues’ forecast supports my belief that Hawaii’s economy is already running at peak conditions. Although the adjusted forecast suggests slightly reduced potential revenues in the current fiscal year, the amount is very modest and manageable in the state’s financial plan. The revision in the forecast is more reflective of what has been substantial revenue growth over the last two fiscal years.
“Additionally, our success in reaching collective bargaining agreements for most units allows us to focus on our initiatives within a sound six-year financial plan that embodies a degree of predictability necessary to navigate future fluctuations.
“Because of our prudent fiscal management, we have a healthy positive balance from the end of fiscal year 2013 as we move forward on our long-term financial plan.”
State Finance Director Kalbert Young added, “A forecast of 3.3 percent growth is still a good optimistic rate of growth for the state. It does recognize the substantial rate of growth in the last two years and, at 3.3 percent, is more than sufficient to deliver all the components and expectations afforded in the state budget and six-year financial plan.”
HONOLULU – Joining other governors from throughout the United States, Gov. Neil Abercrombie today called on U.S. House and Senate leadership to swiftly extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (EUC), which expired on Dec. 28, 2013. As a result of the EUC expiration, approximately 1.3 million jobless workers nationwide, including 20,000 recent military veterans, experienced the end of their benefits on Dec. 28, and nearly 1.9 million more will lose their unemployment benefits over the first half of 2014.
In Hawaii, 2,200 individuals were cut off from their unemployment benefits on Dec. 28. Without the extension, it is estimated that 250 individuals locally will also lose their benefits each week during the first half of this year.
The Governor stated, “Even though Hawaii’s labor market has strengthened to 4.4 percent unemployment – the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the nation – we cannot leave behind local families whose situation has not improved as quickly as others.
“The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an important safety net and bridge for families still struggling to make ends meet as they secure jobs and financial stability. Benefits are used to pay rent, groceries, and other necessities for themselves and their families.
“The EUC program also injects revenue into our local economy, which will serve to sustain and further improve upon Hawaii’s fiscal and economic turnaround.”
Read the letter signed by Gov. Abercrombie and 13 other governors here:
HONOLULU – Gov. Neil Abercrombie today shared the following remarks on the passing of Lowell Kalapa:
“I am saddened by the sudden passing of Lowell Kalapa, who headed the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.
“Lowell worked tirelessly to advocate for Hawaii taxpayers. He had a no-nonsense, unique and independent perspective on government, budgets, and tax policy.
“Lowell was a nationally recognized expert on taxation, and had enormous credibility in the halls of the Hawaii State Legislature. He is irreplaceable and will be missed.”
Kalapa died Monday afternoon in Honolulu. Services are pending.
HONOLULU – As a mark of respect for the memory of former Lt. Gov. Jean Sadako King, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has ordered that the flags of the United States and State of Hawaii shall be flown at half-staff at all state offices and agencies as well as the Hawaii National Guard from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, the day of her memorial services.
King served in the state House of Representatives from 1972 to 1974 and in the state Senate from 1974 to 1978. She was then elected to serve as Hawaii’s first female Lt. Governor from 1978 to 1982. King is recognized as a proponent of transparency in government and worked throughout her life in support of the homeless, environment and peace.
HONOLULU – Gov. Neil Abercrombie today announced the appointment of Scott Edward Enright as chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture (BOA), effective Jan. 1, 2014. The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
“Scott is a respected member of the community whose collaborative spirit has served to bring all parties to the table toward nurturing and sustaining the agriculture industry in Hawaii,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “With Scott?s experience, we will continue to strengthen our agriculture industry by improving infrastructure, building our local markets, and expanding exports.”
Since February 2012, Enright has served as deputy to BOA Chair Russell Kokubun, who is retiring at the end of the year. In that capacity, Enright was the administrator of the state Department of Agriculture (DOA) Divisions of Plant Industry and Agricultural Development, managed the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funding program, and directed Human Resources for the Office of the Chair. He also directed biosecurity programs, led initiatives to revitalize the state’s livestock industry with special focus on developing dairy industry and grass-fed beef industry, and provided direction for improving infrastructure for irrigation systems statewide.
Previously, Enright was a consultant for the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Energy Project, project manager for the ITC Water Management Inc., cultivation and irrigation superintendent for Hamakua Sugar Company, and orchard superintendent for Kilauea Agronomics.
Active in the agriculture industry and community, he is a former chair and current ex officio member representing the DOA on the board of the Agribusiness Development Corporation. He has also served on the Governor’s Council of Neighbor Islands Advisors for East Hawaii (2009-2010), during which he championed sustainable energy with emphasis on sustainable bioenergy fuel stock. In addition, he is a member of the Community Development Plan Steering Committee for the Hamakua District, past chair of the Environmental Management Commission, past member of the Hilo-Hamakua Community Development Corporation Board, and founding president of the O’okala Community Association.
Enright earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
He is a resident of O’okala on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island.
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