Lingle should focus on basics, Dems say
Some legislators want more education and health-care funding
While they complimented Gov. Linda Lingle's outlook for the future that she presented in her State of the State address, majority Democrats in the House and Senate said the state has immediate needs that must be addressed first.
"The people I talked to want to know how come their parks aren't fixed, how come it still takes four years to build a mile of road," Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) said. "It's quite easy for me or others to say we're going to spend more money, we're going to expand programs. I think the people I've already talked to want to see the programs we already have in place working better."
In her fifth State of the State address yesterday, Lingle outlined her plans for restructuring the state's economy away from one based on land development toward one that promotes innovation and education in science, technology engineering and math skills.
She also promoted initiatives for tax cuts and proposals in the areas of work-force development and affordable housing.
Democrats said they would wait for more details before being overly critical. But many also said they feel the governor's speech did not touch on more immediate needs, including school repairs and maintenance and health care.
"We need to reinvest," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Roz Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena). "That's what you do when you have good times, is you take that money and reinvest it to ensure that the good times will continue. You reinvest in our infrastructure, whether it's the schools or health facilities or roadways."
"We've got to take care of the basics," said House Education Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).
Takumi said Lingle's budget was still lacking funds for items such as electricity costs, sewer fees and compliance regulations.
"We have to take care of those basics first before we start talking about other things," Takumi said.
With the cost of anticipated public employee unions pay raises still a big unknown factor, Lingle said in her speech that her budget sets "fair wage increases" for public employees.
House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) responded that "fair" is in the eye of the beholder. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said she believes "fair" does not mean the 9 percent and 11 percent pay raises that the University of Hawaii faculty union has already negotiated.
"That's what I interpreted it as, because she could've have said all public employees will be treated equally. Then we would know what she's looking at," Hanabusa said.
Baker said Lingle's own department heads are making the case for higher wages by advocating for more competitive pay to attract skilled employees. "Is she going to be providing leadership to make sure that our public employees are appropriately compensated?"
Lingle said that while she might not have mentioned some items in her speech, she believes most of the issues raised by Democrats are covered by her 219 proposals and her two-year, $10.5 billion general fund budget submitted last month.
"I expect once the members have an opportunity to sit down and go through our proposals and go through the budget in greater detail ... I think they'll feel that the issues they raise are being addressed," Lingle said. "That doesn't mean we will agree with the amounts on any given proposal, but certainly issues (such as) schools and health care for children are addressed."
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, whom Democrats tried to coax into running against Lingle in last year's election, said he was pleased with the speech overall.
"I was glad to hear the focus on health care -- just to bring a focus on it really helps out," Kim said. "Housing and health care are two of the crisis things. ... I'm sorry to see that it's such a big problem, but I'm glad to see the focus on it."
House leaders applauded Lingle's vision for the future but questioned whether she would be able to pull it off.
"This was probably the strongest (speech) in terms of vision," said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa). "For us, we're going to have to see: Can she do the follow through? Is there really the will to restructure our economy?"