Observers in the House chambers balcony applauded yesterday as the governor outlined to the Legislature her plans for the coming year. To draw further attention to her proposals, Gov. Lingle distributed 52-page color brochures about the speech.

Lingle presses
her agenda

The governor offers specifics
for proposals involving education,
crime and the economy

» Speech highlights
» Lingle wants counties involved

Education and drug control remained center stage before the state Legislature as Gov. Linda Lingle pushed her programs to break up the centralized Department of Education.

In her second State of the State speech, Lingle repeated her call for seven elected school boards to replace the single, statewide system and also pressed for expanded police powers to fight illicit drug dealers.

Legislative leaders praised Lingle's suggestions and predicted the session will wrap up with many issues resolved.

"I don't believe it's going to be very contentious, because there is common ground on working together," said House Speaker Calvin Say.

In a media briefing after the 64-minute speech yesterday, Lingle said that to answer critics who wanted specifics of her school reform plan, the administration is offering an "omnibus school reform" package.

"The Legislature will have a fully developed bill that says how the transition will be carried out and how the local school boards will get up to speed," Lingle said.

The extra information, Lingle said, will help legislators "feel good about putting the issue on the ballot." Changing the school board would require a constitutional amendment that would need voter approval in the fall elections.

Gov. Lingle paused briefly to smile yesterday during her 64-minute speech to the Legislature on the state of the state.

To push her campaign for a series of school changes, Lingle raised the profile of the annual State of the State speech by distributing 52-page color brochures about the speech, dubbed the "2004 Initiatives."

Included in the pamphlet was a mail-in card to request more copies, to endorse her plans and to register as a volunteer to help implement her plans.

The speech is also available on Lingle's Internet site at

The increased attention to the speech and her platform is needed, Lingle said, because she is a Republican and the GOP is in the minority at the Legislature.

"I am going to need ... the public to be supportive of these measures and convince the Democrats that they are worthwhile things," Lingle said.

Although the school board issue was not rejected, some top Democrats had a lot of questions.

"The question is, Will the school boards have any impact on student achievement? The answer is no," Senate President Robert Bunda said.

Say said he wants specific details, including costs, before putting the issue on the ballot. If there are cost increases, Say said, the public should be told before making a decision on whether to split up the school board.

"She just wants to change the whole structure," Bunda added.

Lingle said the problem with the schools "is not money," declaring that Hawaii's per-pupil spending is 14th highest in the country, a ranking produced by her consultants that differs from those of national authorities.

The National Center for Education Statistics, the federal government's clearinghouse for such comparisons, shows Hawaii spent far less per pupil than the national average for the past several years. The most recent ranking placed Hawaii 33rd among the states in 2001; adjusted for the cost of living, that ranking falls to 40th.

The governor also made several proposals for public safety: Make permanent the law that allows forfeiture of cars and property belonging to convicted drug felons; strengthen mandatory and minimum sentencing for repeat offenders; and give police authority to enforce trespassing laws in public housing projects.

Lingle also said a proposed constitutional amendment would be submitted to lawmakers that would permit Honolulu police officers to informally interview suspected drug couriers to get them to consent to searches. In 1994 the Hawaii Supreme Court struck down the walk-and-talk enforcement as unconstitutional.

Lingle was silent on two other key issues in the state: public employee pay raises and mass transit.

Early in her term, Lingle called for mass transit to ease Leeward Oahu traffic problems, and a tax increase to fund it, but declined yesterday to mention the issue.

"It is a city issue. I tried to provide leadership and will continue to when called upon, but transit is clearly something that is a city issue," Lingle said.

The governor did introduce a new issue, calling yesterday for an amendment to require a balanced state budget.

Many legislators thought that the state Constitution, which requires the administration to prepare a budget that matches income with expenses, was the same as a balanced budget, but Lingle said several years of attorney general opinions have failed to resolve the issue of whether the Legislature must approve a budget that is balanced.

Lingle declined yesterday to say specifically how a balanced budget would be defined or who would make the ruling, but she said it would help state finances.

"I think it is important that not only does the governor have to submit one, but the Legislature has to adopt one.

"There has been a lot of discussion about this. They would say we did balance the budget, and we say, 'But you left out $31 million for state hospitals,'" Lingle said.

The idea caught House leaders by surprise, according to Say, who said he was not sure that the issue would rise to the seriousness of a constitutional amendment.

Star-Bulletin reporters Nelson Daranciang and Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.


Speech highlights

Gov. Linda Lingle called for new state programs in five areas:


>> Change the state Constitution to require that the Legislature approve a balanced state budget.


>> Increase mandatory and minimum sentences for repeat offenders; make it a felony to drive after having your license suspended or revoked; and give police authority to enforce trespassing laws in public housing projects.


>> Spend $5 million to gain another $5 million in matching federal funds to provide medical help to children now eligible for Medicaid.


>> Make it a felony to illegally dump solid waste.

>> Require that 20 percent of all electricity sold by 2020 come from renewable sources.

>> Encourage the use of nonfossil fuels by exempting them from the state fuel tax.


>> Exempt state residents serving in combat zones from state income taxes.

>> Encourage the captive insurance market by making the state a port of entry for foreign insurance companies.


Lingle wants
counties involved in
ag land designation

The counties would play a greater role in determining which lands should be kept in agriculture, under a proposal floated by Gov. Linda Lingle in her State of the State address.

The proposal would accelerate designation of "important agricultural lands, a process that's 25 years overdue," the governor said.

"We just are not willing to wait anymore," Lingle told reporters after her speech. "Our plan says that the counties will take a complete look at their lands in total, and they will make recommendations on which lands should be set aside as important agricultural lands."

The counties would have to follow criteria established by the Legislature. The final county plan would then go to the state Land Use Commission.

A 1978 state constitutional amendment called on the state to protect agricultural land by identifying "important agricultural lands."

The state has unsuccessfully tried over the years to do that. The problem, Lingle said, is that there are "some interest groups involved that may never agree on this subject."

Mayor Jeremy Harris, who said he wrote the amendment as a delegate to the 1978 convention, said he is pleased the state administration is implementing the amendment.

"I think the important agricultural lands should be identified scientifically and technically, and then we should set a higher standard for urbanizing them ... so you don't take them out of agriculture," Harris said.

Because of a lack of action on the amendment, Harris said, he sponsored a bill in the City Council two years ago that would have protected 83,000 acres of Oahu agricultural land, but the bill was stalled in committee.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) said he believes Lingle has an ulterior motive.

"Her idea is to really get rid of the Land Use Commission. She didn't go that far, but it's one step at a time for her," Bunda said. "She wants development. She wants gentleman estates."

When asked by reporters whether her plan would open up more agricultural land to development, Lingle said that is not necessarily the case.

"I just think it would more clearly designate lands for proper use," she said. "As you know, through the years with the failure to identify these important lands, more and more lands have been taken out of agriculture."

Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said that in identifying important agricultural land, the state needs "to make sure the criteria that are used to identify those are fair and capture those lands that might not be traditionally viewed as productive ag lands but are in fact productive."

Wendell Koga, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, said there is always a need to preserve agricultural land.

"We basically want to preserve the most important ones, the ones that are more useful. Of course, the problem is that the best ag lands also have plans for development."

Star-Bulletin reporter Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.


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