- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Gov. David Ige wants to build a better home for the state’s young and elderly. But to do that, the state needs more money.

The state’s tight financial situation and the need for money to make Hawaii a better place to live were themes of Ige’s State of the State address on Monday.

“We have a mountain of challenges to climb. So I hope that we can climb it together,” Ige said.

“We are building a home for our kupuna, ourselves and our children,” the governor said, using the Hawaiian word for “elders.” ”We build schools, hospitals, community centers, and places to work and play. And we safeguard these things that are important to us - our families, our freedoms, our environment and our future - because this is our home.”

Throughout his speech, Ige drew parallels between the state’s difficult financial situation and his own experience making ends meet in Hawaii, relating how he chose to stay on the islands after graduating from the University of Hawaii, a decision many locals face after graduating from college and choosing where to settle down.

“I know what it’s like to scrimp and save to buy a home and pay for tuition,” Ige said. “I know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet.”

Ige reiterated that the state is spending more money that it brings in, and shared ideas to switch that scenario so the state would be spending less and collecting more, without raising taxes.

He told listeners in the packed House chamber that he plans to be more aggressive about bringing federal money to Hawaii. Federal officials told him $940 million is available to the state for projects, he said. Ige told reporters the untapped funds are for largely for transportation and clean water projects.

To boost revenue Ige also plans to modernize the tax department to collect unpaid taxes and to push state agencies to go paperless. The Senate saved $1.2 million in two years when it ditched paper and instead posted everything online, Ige said. But as he spoke in the House chamber Monday, lawmakers had tall paper stacks of bills on their desks.

“If you notice, on the Senate side, they don’t have stacks of paper,” Ige joked after his speech. “It’s more than a personal crusade. If we don’t find savings, then I can’t do anything.”

Affordable housing will be one of Ige’s main goals, he said. To address the state’s lack of affordable housing, Ige plans to have units built near the rail transit system that’s under construction in Honolulu. The state is the largest owner of parcels along the proposed transit route, he said.

“Rail can be the driver to help us build future communities on Oahu - to sensibly direct growth, protect open space and agriculture, stimulate business, reinvigorate older neighborhoods and build affordable homes,” he said.

Ige said he wants rail to succeed in Hawaii, but he said cost containment is important before officials ask for more money.

The governor said he will add $100 million to the rental-assistance fund, which can be leveraged to build rental homes for working families. “Building a good home takes time, money and skill,” Ige said.

Ige also plans to encourage business innovation and to support local food by adding $5 million to the agricultural loan program.

On education, Ige said he plans to increase the amount of money going to the Department of Education for students, and to allow principals to decide how to spend the money. He said education has the power to lift a family out of poverty and despair. “It has the power to turn dreams into reality,” he said.

“I’m sure when they heard that, every principal and teacher jumped for joy,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, who took over Ige’s pervious role as chairman of Senate Finance. “That being said…there’s so many other competing asks and needs within the Department of Education.”

Health care is not easily distributed throughout the islands, and it’s important for the financially struggling public hospitals to change the way they operate, Ige said.

“If there are private providers that are interested in partnership, we’ll look at those opportunities as they come through,” Ige said.


Follow Cathy Bussewitz on Twitter https://www.twitter.com/cbussewitz

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