A positive outlook, a chance for new initiativesPosted on Jan 27, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
In the first year of the pandemic, we were forced to cut over a billion dollars from the budget, with every state agency scrambling to find new ways to continue essential services to our residents. Describing our financial prospects back then as bleak would be an understatement. But we took the hard and necessary steps to address the very thing that threatened the life of our economy: the pandemic. Many wanted us to immediately fix the symptoms of the problem, the devastated economy. But we needed to balance that with putting people’s health first. As painful as it was, it was the right remedy for the long term — to make things pono. When things seemed to get better, we tempered our optimism. And we continue to do so—with economic and health issues.
As you have heard, we now expect a positive budget balance of more than a billion dollars. Tax collections have jumped by an astounding 27.3 percent over last year’s totals—a direct reflection of the rebound in visitor arrivals, increased consumer spending, and the growing strength of our local businesses. We have a chance to restore painful cuts that have been made over the last two years, to repay outstanding loans, and to replenish various state funds. We have a chance to safeguard our future and our children’s future.
For the first time in a long time, we have the resources to take care of both our immediate and long-term needs. We can rebuild the solid fiscal foundation that we created before the pandemic. We also have a chance to pursue new initiatives, including the development of an all-inclusive broadband infrastructure. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s about the crucial role that the internet plays in all of our lives. That’s why we’re leveraging state resources to maximize federal funding for broadband and proposing the largest investment in technology in state history. We’re calling it Apa-kau Ka La, “spreading of the sun’s rays.” It is critical infrastructure of the future, connecting all of the main Hawaiian islands. This initiative will not only close the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots, but also strengthen us as a community. We also recently launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which extends federal emergency broadband benefits to those who would not otherwise be able to afford internet service. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 Hawai‘i families will be able to qualify for internet services under this program.