- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Gov. David Ige says transforming schools is key to diversifying the state’s economy, and he wants to expand a program that enables high school students to earn college credits for free.

Ige also plans to invest more money on programs that support developing the state’s technology sector, he said in his annual State of the State address Monday.

“To transform our economy, we need to transform our schools, so our children can provide the brain power and fill the jobs required in a knowledge-based economy,” Ige said. “To keep them here, we need to ensure that our economy provides challenging and satisfying careers and homes they can afford.”

The theme of innovation was woven throughout Ige’s speech. He talked about how the far-flung Pacific outpost transformed when residents’ great-grandparents made the state into a leading provider of sugar in the world.

“We must tap our greatest resource, our people, to find our way to the next great economic transformation: the development of an innovation sector,” Ige said.

But Ige is faced with finding places to trim his proposed $28.5 billion operating budget after state revenue came in lower than expected. Ige acknowledged that but did not provide details Monday on where he will make reductions in his spending plan, which is currently being reviewed by lawmakers.

“There was very little detail about how exactly he’s going to resolve it, so I think we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what the details are going to be,” said Senate President Ronald Kouchi.

Ige wants to expand the Early College Program - which allows high school students to earn college credits at no cost - to every public high school in the state. He also wants to establish the Hawaii Promise Program to fill the gaps between the cost of community college and what families can afford to help families avoid taking out loans to pay for tuition, fees and books.

“Studies show that this may be one of the most powerful tools to advance college enrollment and success among our public high school graduates_especially for lower-income and first-generation college students,” Ige said.

Ige suggested spending state money from a settlement with Volkswagen to buy more state-owned electricity vehicles, saying that would help Hawaii continue to be a leader in moving toward clean energy.

On affordable housing, Ige said the state developed more than 1,000 dwellings in the past two years and there are 4,000 units in the pipeline.

Ige proposed spending $59 million for public housing improvements and $123 million on new housing. The state’s efforts with non-profits reduced evictions 25 percent and kept 4,200 people off the streets, he said.

State Sen. Rosalyn Baker was surprised Ige didn’t talk about rural health care needs. She said senators are concerned about losing the Affordable Care Act and are drafting bills to put parts of it into state law.

They’re also examining how much the state budget relies on federal funding, looking for ways the state can fund federal programs if the money flowing into Hawaii dwindles.

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