Chamber of Commerce Remarks- “Reflecting on Year One”

Posted on Dec 11, 2015 in Main

Remarks of Governor David Ige as prepared

December 2, 2015 at the Pomaika’i Ballrooms at Dole Cannery Iwilei 

“Reflecting on Year One”

After thirty years at the Legislature, I walked into the Governor’s Office one year ago.

I was under no illusions about what I was going to face as Governor. The operations of government had serious flaws and there were tough issues already facing us. In addition, I knew that there would be unexpected challenges and there have certainly been a number of those as well.

I also knew that there were great people who wanted to help and I have filled my cabinet with such people. I also knew that there were lots of public servants who wanted to help make government better and were waiting for leadership that would engage them in meeting the challenge.

At base what was most important in my mind was that I had to make things right in order to make things happen.

Business people know that if you have an unhealthy core in your company, you will not be able to serve your customers well. If the core of your business is in trouble, you have to attend to it. In the same manner, I have to work on the core issues of governance in order to marshal the resources of government to solve our critical problems.

And that is exactly what we have been doing.

Getting to the core of government may not be splashy. Nor does it make headlines. But the engineering part of me says we can’t get lasting results without fundamental change and I am determined to do this — to make things fundamentally right. This takes work, serious work, and I am committed to seeing the tough work through. So the results that we in turn can achieve will be sound and lasting.

In looking over the last year, I found work done by prior administrations that I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of such as the opening at Palamanui of the University of Hawaii in Kona. In other cases I have found problems for which there was no easy path, and in the end we are doing what we have to do. The Connector is one of those issues.

Another one of these very tough issues is homelessness. The camp at Kaka‘ako brought things to a head but the problem has been growing for some time.

It is my firm conviction that the public needs open access to our sidewalks and parks and that these are not areas for people to live. Over recent years, we have seen a very sad sequence that begins with clearing the homeless only to see them move to nearby areas. It is not good enough to simply move the homeless around. We need to help them and solve the problem.

My approach has been three-fold:

  1. Gather all the key Federal, State and County leaders together to coordinate our work and to eliminate the finger pointing and politics surrounding this issue.
  2. Clear areas only if shelter space is available. The homeless may not choose to go to the shelters, and we cannot force them to do so. Each time an area is cleared, some move, but if you look closely, you will see that many are going into shelter.
  3. Provide social services to the homeless through a set of agencies who are in this field and skilled at helping them find long term housing.

We are making progress. We know that we need more shelter space, especially for families. This month we began renovation of a 5,000 square foot transitional shelter in Kaka‘ako. It will serve up to 15 families (60 individuals) at any one time. And to get it done fast, we are using our public employees. They asked to be part of the solution.

We must all work together on homelessness. I applaud Duane Kurisu for what he is trying to do. His personal work to support the homeless, and our community, with his project in the Keehi area is extraordinary. No complaints, no excuses, instead action. Whatever challenges lie ahead, Duane’s willingness to get involved is what our community needs more of.

We also worked out—with the Legislature—a path for a negotiated transition to a private operator of Maui region health care facilities.  Talk about managing our rural health care facilities has been going on for years, how to stop the bleeding, curb the growing losses. This year we are moving forward with action…the largest transition ever in the history of the State of Hawaii.

What else am I particularly proud of?

We are managing our prisons better, reducing overtime by 16 percent, saving $1.4 million. More importantly, we have not cancelled family visitations at any facility due to “football flu” since last January.

In the area of education, we appointed an excellent school board chair in Lance Mizumoto, a public-school graduate and parent, and delivered more dollars directly to the schools. We have begun the work of listening to the stakeholders as we move to the next level for public education.

We committed ourselves to a 100% clean energy future and we are taking the steps necessary to make that happen including declining to go the path of substitute fossil fuels like LNG. Companies in Okinawa, Tokyo and Korea are excited about helping us meet our renewable energy goals. Investing money we currently send out-of-State to buy fossil fuel and spending it here on renewable energy helps us and our economy in every way.

We renegotiated and closed the Turtle Bay deal and it now represents a truly great gift to our children and Hawaii’s future. Four miles of pristine ocean shoreline and eight miles of trails are protected forever.

We are moving aggressively to find as many short and long term solutions to our traffic problems as we can including the recent opening of additional lanes on H-1 in the Pearl City and Waipahu areas. We have freed up $100 million in federal funds to help us with our highways.

We are continuing to support completion of the rail system while watching the financial issues and concerns.

We received an upgrade in our financial ratings for general obligation bonds because of our focus on financial health and strength. By developing and sticking to a thoughtful plan to deal with unfunded liabilities, we have been able to improve the state’s financial wellbeing. And at the same time, we are fulfilling our obligations to retired employees who earned their benefits.

In November, we completed the first bond sale of our administration – $750 million – issued at 2.6% – amongst the lowest interest rate in the history of the State of Hawaii.

We’ve restructured our payments for the pension fund, to make better use of your tax dollars. We will save more than $1 billion over the next 20 years.

Our tax modernization project is now on time and under budget. This was an area where government has failed in the past but our restart is now on track. And while we were working on that, we found $21.5 million in tax fraud in our first year of looking.

We have reorganized the Information Technology office, and reclassified and updated IT positions. We have changed the way we do IT in State government – cancelling procurement of systems we cannot afford, terminating contracts and seeking recovery of funds when consultants fail to perform, and establishing a new program and contract management division to make sure projects have the best opportunity for success.

We are changing the civil service system to make it work. We initiated the multi-skill worker pilot projects, creating work teams to be more efficient and effective in the department of transportation and public housing. We reduced the turnaround time for a public housing apartment from 200 days to 7 days.

And we just received a check for $660,000 for our work on a public assistance program and as importantly received federal recognition of how much the state work has improved.

Making things right, making things happen.

 And what lies ahead? 

We will continue to improve the governance of Hawaii until we get it right.

It is essential that we maintain our global position as a leader in the tourism arena. We will continue to bring more flights to Hawaii, to expand pre-clearance programs, to establish Kona as a second international airport, and to speed the customs process with automated passport readers.

We will ensure the availability of broadband resources.

We will focus increased attention on the opportunities represented by IT and innovation sectors in energy, agriculture, and the creative media.

We will continue to provide start up support and assistance to emerging enterprises. With the Chamber’s support, the legislature passed and I signed two bills that provide grants through the High Technology Development Corporation to increase manufacturing and innovation capacity here in Hawai‘i.

We will support the military in meeting their training and renewable energy needs. With the Chamber’s strong support, the legislature created a Military Affairs Liaison position in the governor’s office, and I want to introduce you to Thomas Kahalu Lee, Jr. Tom is from Maui and a graduate of Moanalua High School. He is an Army and Navy veteran who was honorably discharged in 1999, only to re-enlist in the Army after the 9-11 attacks. He deployed to Iraq in 2007 and was severely injured in an improvised explosive device ambush that year, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. Tom received the Purple Heart and until an injury sidelined him, was a member of the U.S. Paratriathlon team vying for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

He is assisted by Robert Lee our protocol officer and deputy military affairs liaison. Rob grew up in Kāne‘ohe and served with the United States Air Force before joining the Hawai‘i Air National Guard where he continues to serve as the senior enlisted leader. He is scheduled to retire in Feb. 2016 with 36 years of service.

They will be working closely with the Military Affairs Council to support the military in Hawai‘i.

And now let me end where I began, this year was both a challenging year and a very productive year. It was a year of investment, in the core of government, in turning the ship of state to a more productive and public service-oriented organization. Much remains to be done in this regard but the journey is now well underway.

I would also like to challenge all of you to get involved, to take risks, to make things better.

Let us all step forward, take the chance and act; Hawai‘i is worth it.