By Governor Linda Lingle, R-Hawaii – All of us in Hawai‘i have been deeply impacted by the global recession. We’ve had to make tough decisions and sacrifices– in government, in business and in our households – to deal with the impacts that began hitting our economy in mid-2008.
In true Hawai‘i fashion, our state pulled together to tackle these difficult issues. It has not been an easy task, and there have been disagreements, even heated debate, along the way. But for the most part, we have remained focused on being fiscally responsible, turning our economy around, getting our residents back to work, and setting the foundation for a stronger future.
Over the past few weeks, we have been seeing the positive results of this collaboration and sacrifice.
This week, after eight months of discussions, and with the help of many, “Furlough Fridays” in our schools are over. We crafted an agreement everyone can work with, and most importantly, going into the next school year, our students will be in school full-time.
We should maintain the focus on education that was brought about by this difficult ordeal to ensure that education remains a top priority. For the past seven-and-a-half years, my Administration advocated for reforms in our public schools. The Furlough Fridays chapter has galvanized parents, educators, government leaders and the community, and given us the means and desire to ensure real change occurs.
We are also beginning to see an encouraging turnaround in the factor that led to Furlough Fridays – declining revenues. Tax collections for the first 10 months of the fiscal year have improved. In addition, the revised outlook by the Council on Revenues, which previously forecasted a 2.5 percent decline in tax collections this fiscal year, now points to positive growth. While it will still be some time before we return to pre-recession 2008 revenue levels, there is no disputing our economy is clearly headed in the right direction.
Due to these improving tax collections, the State has been able to issue tax refunds which had been delayed due to the budget shortfall. Over the past week, refunds totaling $64 million have been issued to more than 105,000 tax filers. In total, an estimated 209,000 of the 380,000 tax filers to date will receive $125 million in refunds in the coming weeks.
The tourism sector is also seeing signs of recovery, having now recorded five consecutive months of increasing visitor arrivals and a second straight month of increased visitor spending. I credit the visitor industry for taking swift action to develop a comprehensive marketing plan to ensure Hawai‘i remains a top destination. The State worked closely with hoteliers and other tourism industry executives over the past year-and-half to focus on attracting visitors in the midst of the global recession.
This is good news for our job market, which is seeing an improvement in job creation. In April every island saw a decrease in unemployment, and statewide, Hawai‘i was tied for the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 6.7 percent, compared to 9.9 percent nationally.
Still, many of our residents remain unemployed, and one of my top priorities is to get them back to work by implementing a number of job creation initiatives.
Working with the Obama Administration, this month the state launched the Hawai‘i Premium Plus program to incentivize private sector companies and non-profit organizations to hire unemployed residents by subsidizing their health insurance premiums for up to a year. The program will reimburse employers up to $140 per month – using state and federal dollars – for up to a year for each qualified person hired through this initiative, which represents roughly half of what it costs a company to provide health insurance for a full-time employee. The goal is to hire up to 6,450 individuals who are currently on unemployment, which would reduce the state’s unemployment rate by one percentage point.
The State’s Summer Youth Employment Program is also helping to put Hawai‘i’s young people, ages 14 to 23 into jobs that pay $8 or more per hour. Under this program, jobs are being offered at federal, state and county government offices and at non-profit organizations statewide.
This month, we reached a milestone in helping to create construction jobs. Under a plan launched in collaboration with the construction industry and the counties in December 2008 to accelerate capital improvement projects statewide, the State has advanced over 800 new projects totaling over $1.8 billion. It is estimated that these projects are helping to generate over 23,000 direct and indirect jobs in the construction industry and other related sectors.
Hawai‘i has also been in the national spotlight as a leader in our pursuit of clean energy. In just the past few weeks, Nissan selected Hawai‘i as a launch site for its Leaf electric vehicle, a South Korean company unveiled plans to build an electric vehicle assembly plant in Hawai‘i, General Motors entered a partnership with The Gas Company to test hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology, a new wind energy project was approved in Kahuku and the state announced federal stimulus rebate programs for electric vehicles as well as Energy Star refrigerators.
Hawai‘i’s film industry is also going strong, with major productions underway including Walt Disney Pictures’ “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and “The Descendants” starring George Clooney, as well as the recent announcement by CBS that it will add the new “Hawai‘i Five-0” series to its fall lineup.
In addition, I recently approved the final EIS for the $1 billion TMT Thirty-Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea, which is widely supported by the Big Island community because of the economic benefits the project offers and the potential to spur career and education opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Finally, I will be headed to Asia at the end of this week to strengthen our relationships with China and to promote tourism, exports, investments, clean energy and education opportunities. I will also visit Japan to meet with our Japanese tourism and business partners. This outreach to international markets is critical to Hawai‘i’s long-term economic future and our role as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region.
While all of this is certainly good news and reason to feel optimistic, there is still a lot more to achieve. My entire cabinet and their departments are dedicated to work day in and day out to complete the goals we’ve established for ourselves as well as the ones we were elected to do.
Please check out my website at www.hawaii.gov/gov to secure weekly updates.
Mahalo and aloha!
Governor Linda Lingle