Lingle's agenda aims to raise quality of life for all Hawaii residents
THE themes emphasized by the Senate and House leaders on the opening day of the 24th Hawaii Legislature -- innovation, economic diversification, sustainability, affordable housing, homelessness, energy independence, support of public education, protection of the aina -- are in keeping with major initiatives Gov. Linda Lingle and her administration have focused on for much of the past four years, and will continue to work on moving forward.
These issues are important to people throughout our community, who expect the governor to continue setting the agenda for our state, as evidenced by their overwhelming vote of confidence on Nov. 7 of last year.
Lingle set the agenda during her first two years of service when she accomplished the following:
» restored trust and confidence in government through greater transparency and accountability;
» sharply focused the community's attention on how to prevent and treat substance abuse problems, including the crystal methamphetamine epidemic destroying Hawaii's families and communities;
» turned an inherited state budget deficit into a healthy surplus through fiscal discipline and accountability, creating a more business-friendly climate, and expanding and diversifying the economy;
» sought to give our children a brighter future by making public education reform a statewide priority;
» increased support for our neediest residents, including impoverished families, frail kupuna and at-risk youth;
» developed a six-year plan to reduce homelessness and expand the supply of affordable housing;
» protected the environment through an unprecedented effort to control invasive species; and
» set the state on a path toward energy independence by promoting the use of clean, affordable and renewable fuel sources.
DURING HER third and fourth years of office, the governor continued to make progress on the initiatives listed above, and also:
» strengthened economic, cultural and educational ties with our Asia-Pacific neighbors, including China, which has the world's fastest-growing economy;
» granted greater autonomy to the University of Hawaii system;
» increased support for early childhood education and charter schools;
» fought for new anti-crime measures to keep residents and visitors safer;
» upgraded the statewide transportation network of airports, harbors and highways, including a $2.3 billion initiative to create a world-class airport system;
» fulfilled longstanding commitments to native Hawaiians, in part by helping many of them realize the dream of owning a home;
» led a mission to the Philippines to honor the many contributions by Filipinos during the 100th anniversary of the first sakadas arriving in Hawaii to work on the sugarcane and pineapple plantations; and
» worked with the federal government to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by creating the largest marine sanctuary on the planet.
Without a doubt, Lingle has set and continues to set the agenda for Hawaii. With her fifth State of the State address, she again showed her leadership and vision for the future of our state.
Given the call for bipartisan cooperation by legislators on both sides of the aisle, I remain hopeful that the 2007 legislative session eventually will be regarded as one of the most positive and productive ever.
THERE ARE two main reasons for my optimism:
» The priorities expressed by both the governor and key legislators enjoy widespread support among the public; and
» The state's vibrant economy and healthy budget surplus provide the necessary financial resources to achieve substantial progress.
With regard to the first point, the approach Lingle and her cabinet members are taking to improve the quality of life for all Hawaii residents -- while reducing our overall reliance on land development -- obviously resonates with the public.
With regard to the second point, the mood in the Senate and House chambers is understandably more collegial when state coffers are full and a wide range of existing and new programs can receive the funding they deserve. That was clearly the case during the 2006 legislative session -- which Lingle described as the best one so far of her tenure -- and the current session holds even greater promise.
While it seems likely that the House and Senate will follow Lingle's lead by working to reduce homelessness, provide more affordable housing and promote innovation in our schools and workplaces, there is a concern that legislators might not be willing to embrace another critical goal -- meaningful tax relief.
UNDER HAWAII'S Constitution, tax relief must be provided when the state accumulates a budget surplus for two consecutive years. But the Legislature doesn't seem to regard this as a priority, even though we have the unenviable distinction of being the fifth-harshest state in taxing those who earn the least.
With lower- and middle-income residents struggling to pay the highest rents, gasoline prices and electricity rates in the nation, and many young people leaving the islands for higher wages and less expensive housing on the mainland, the time for tax relief is long overdue.
And we should never forget that state tax revenue comes from and belongs to the people of Hawaii, which is why Lingle is working hard to enact her $346 million tax relief package.
The opening of the legislative session and the governors' State of the State address gave us all a reason for great optimism. Let's hope the House and Senate closely follow Lingle's agenda -- as they have during the last four years -- in terms of addressing the most pressing initiatives and laying the foundation for the future.
Our state is at a pivotal point in its history, and we must not let this opportunity for progress pass us by. As the governor said during her State of the State, "the future begins today!"
Lenny Klompus is the senior adviser-communications for Gov. Linda Lingle. www.hawaii.gov/gov