Harris plans
bold address

Observers say the speech
will likely be the most
important of his career

Full text of speech

By Crystal Kua

Mayor Jeremy Harris plans tonight to outline ways to sustain the city's financial health: privatizing more services, getting rid of nonessential city functions and reducing construction debt and costs.

City & County of Honolulu

In a speech seen as one of the most important of his political career, Harris said yesterday that he will "look towards the future and the opportunities and challenges that the city faces and where we intend to take the city over the next year with long-term goals in sight."

For the first time, the State of the City address -- the mayor's ninth -- will be delivered live at prime time. A program preceding the speech will begin at 6 p.m. with the actual speech being delivered at 6:30 p.m. from the courtyard of Honolulu Hale. Television stations KHON and KGMB will carry the speech live.

And after a year that saw Harris bowing out of the governor's race, his campaign under criminal investigation and his city budget torn apart by the City Council, political observers say that this speech is crucial.

"I think it's important because everybody is wondering what kind of tone he's setting -- if there is a new Harris or an old Harris or a downbeat Harris or the usual upbeat Harris," said University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner. "This is a chance for him to signal to the new City Council just how much energy and how much of the old skills that he used to depend on are going to be apparent this time around."

This speech, which will set Harris' course for the next year, will cover six general areas with the overriding theme of sustainability. "It's more than just the theme for the coming year; it's really been the theme all along," Harris said.

Harris spoke broadly about his speech yesterday, saving the details for his speech tonight.

He said he will cover:

>> Building a sustainable economy through actions he intends to take with economic development.

>> Land use. "Actions taken to protect our open space, protect our agricultural lands, develop our diversified agriculture on the island."

>> Energy issues. "We will talk about a bold new energy initiative for city government to dramatically reduce our energy demand, and lay out a plan to reduce the city government's energy usage by 50 percent by 2010."

>> Long- and short-term goals regarding transportation.

>> Solid waste and waste water. "How we're going to increase recycling, how we're going to deal with issues such as the landfill and whatnot -- waste-water plans for improvement of our waste-water system and some exciting partnerships with the Board of Water Supply."

>> City finances. He intends to create long-term sustainability for the city.

Harris would not say whether that would include asking for a real property tax rate hike. "The details of the budget -- we're not going to lay out and do the entire budget tomorrow. We'll do that in five weeks," he said.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi will be listening to the fiscal details.

"I'm curious as to whether he'll touch on revenues, whether fees are going to be raised or property taxes, because he's always opposed raising property taxes, so I just don't know how he's going to balance the budget," she said.

Harris said he plans to lay out the fundamentals of "our policies to establish fiscal sustainability in the long term, talking about new areas of city services that I intend to privatize, certain noncore city functions that I will propose to divest the city of and a variety of other issues."

Aides say he also plans to announce a $100 million, or 25 percent, reduction of his construction budget, which will help reduce the amount of debt that the city pays on bonds.

"That might be a way to lower expenditures, but I don't know if that will be enough," Kobayashi said.

Harris said the reason why the speech is in prime time is because he wants to reach more of the public and believes it is important that they hear the speech in its entirety instead of in snippets.

"So I think this is perhaps a pivotal point in our state's history, and that of course makes any major policy address that much more important," he said.

"I guess he wants more people to listen and to know that the city is in good financial shape," Kobayashi said.

"The more, the merrier," Milner said. "I think he's trying to re-establish himself in the eyes of the broader public."

City & County of Honolulu

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