Lingle makes case for high-tech state
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, in her first foray into legislative lobbying this year, is getting some thumbs up for plans to shift Hawaii's economy.
Lingle wants the state's economy to be based more on high-tech businesses, such as digital media. To accomplish that, Lingle wants Hawaii's current labor force to be better prepared and equipped to handle 21st century jobs.
Lingle testified before House and Senate committees yesterday. The effort won the initial passage of House Bill 1280, which gives tax credits for learning programs and state aid for rapid-response learning programs, and creates programs to lure Hawaii residents back to the state.
"Hawaii's ability to support more knowledge- and innovation-intensive economy and to raise our standard of living requires an immediate and ongoing upgrade of our skill sets for our workers," Lingle told the House Labor Committee.
Lingle said "lifelong learning accounts," similar to employer-matched 401(k) savings accounts, would pay for classes to upgrade an employee's skills
Both the worker and the employer would get a tax credit for participating in the program. Lingle estimated the cost to be about $1.7 million a year, but said increased employment and expanded jobs would make up for it.
"The entire innovation package is not just focused on new businesses. It will help all businesses. An increase in productivity leads to an increase in wages, and that leads to an increased standard of living," Lingle said.
Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, called the job preparation bill "the most significant thing our state could do to achieve the state's desire for economic growth."
The Labor Committee approved the bill, but it must still go to the Education and Finance committees.
In the Senate, Lingle pressed for Senate Bill 1365, which would require the state's $10 billion Employees Retirement System to invest up to $100 million in local venture capital. The idea is to support local high-tech businesses.
Sen. David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City) said he has been trying since 1990 to get the retirement system to invest in local firms. "The board has been reluctant to explicitly direct funds to Hawaii-based companies," Ige said.
He hoped that perhaps now, with Lingle adding her pressure to the bill, there would be a change.
A spokeswoman for the retirement system said yesterday the board has yet to take a position on the bill. But the Hawaii Government Employees Association opposed the move.
"The growth of high technology in Hawaii is a worthy objective. However, we do not think it is appropriate or prudent to use pension funds for this purpose," Nora Nomura, HGEA legislative officer, said.