Opening More Doors This Legislative Session

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”’Editor’s Note: The Hawaii State Legislature convened yesterday, Jan. 19, 2005. Here are the remarks by House Speaker Calvin Say.”’

Aloha. Welcome to the opening of the 23rd session of the Hawai’i House of Representatives. It’s wonderful to see all of you here.


I especially want to welcome the many dignitaries who have joined us today: Lieutenant Governor Aiona; Congressman Abercrombie; Congressman Case; Chief Justice Moon and the justices of the Supreme Court; Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Apoliona; Mayors Baptiste and Kim and Acting Mayor Waterhouse; Council Chairs Asing, Dela Cruz and Safarik; Governors Ariyoshi and Waihee; Lieutenant Governor Hirono; representatives of the military services and Hawai’i’s consular corp. Mahalo for coming.

It’s unfortunate Gov. Lingle couldn’t be here today. However, the leadership of the House and Senate met with her last Thursday, and I believe we opened the door to more communication during this legislative session. I know both Democrats and Republicans believe in the value of examining issues from differing perspectives. We do that in this body on a daily basis. It’s vital that we communicate with one another and do it in ways that produce constructive outcomes for the people of Hawai’i.

How we attain our goals is just as important as the goals themselves. Choosing the right goals can certainly be difficult. But deciding how to make them a reality can be even a greater challenge.

With that in mind, members, you’ll find on your desks a book, entitled “Managing with Aloha.” Its author is my sister-in law, Rosa Say from the Big Island. The book embodies what she has learned during her 30-plus years of working with local companies. I commend it to you, not because a member of my family wrote it, but for its wisdom about using Hawaiian concepts and philosophy in the work we do. I think Rosa would agree with me that the concepts of aloha and accomplishment are truly compatible. Rosa is here today. Rosa, please stand so we can acknowledge you and your work?

One of the phrases you’ll find in Rosa’s book is “ka la hiki ola” i in English, “the dawning of a new day.” Here’s just a little of what she says regarding this phrase:

With every sunrise we get another shot, another chance to be all we can possibly be. The sun may rise over some change that may have occurred, but it still comes with a fresh start and the gift of more time. Ka la hiki ola is a value of incredible promise and hope.

Today is the dawning of a new day for this body. We’re joined by nine new members who were elected to office for the first time this past November. Would our new members please rise so we can welcome you?

As a body, we’re ready for the new session. New faces, new issues and new ideas fill this chamber. We’re energized and ready to go. So, let’s get down to business.

I want to talk today about how we can build on the accomplishments of the past, to not only address today’s pressing issues, but create a truly sustainable future for our state. We can be successful in this quest if we keep in mind how much government impacts the lives of people. The former speaker of the U.S. House, Tip O’Neill, coined the phrase “All politics is local.” Let me take that a step further: I believe all government is personal. The commuter stuck in traffic… The student set on getting a good education… The worker who loses a job due to a corporate reorganization… The entrepreneur looking to succeed with a new idea… The family without a roof over its head. Each expects and deserves our help. Our work is very personal. Every piece of legislation we consider impacts someone, somehow, somewhere. Let’s never forget that!

Last session we successfully answered some of the most critical needs of our citizens. We made significant strides in retooling our public education system, broadening the fight against ice, helping those without coverage to afford prescription drugs, and re-framing the incentives for high-tech start-ups.

For the moment, Hawai’i is enjoying a vibrant economy. But it didn’t just happen. Hawai’i’s current economic health stems from years of effort:

* In 1998 we reduced the State personal income tax. That decision is saving taxpayers $250 million a year.
* In 1999 we began phasing out the pyramiding of the general excise tax on services.
* And I hate to think where we would be today if we hadn’t passed the special economic recovery package that was enacted following the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

It’s easy to take the accomplishments of past legislative sessions for granted i things that have become part of our daily lives. Let me jog your memories a little more.

* For the past thirty years Hawai’i has enjoyed one of the highest percentages of citizens with healthcare coverage, thanks to our prepaid healthcare law.
* Hawai’i enjoys an accessible and affordable system of higher education that has helped thousands to pursue their dreams of a better life. From outstanding vocational education programs to our medical and law schools, the University of Hawai’i system serves our people extremely well.
* Government also has invested heavily in the marketing of our number one industry, tourism. In addition, we built a convention center in 1997 and created an integrated tourism authority in 1998. In doing so, we’ve helped to grow our tourism industry and its related jobs to unprecedented levels.
* We’ve also worked hard at diversifying our economy. In 1994 we built a film studio at Diamond Head that is a key reason we are hosting so many filmmakers today. We should see similar results from the new medical school and bio-medical research facilities now being completed in Kakaako. And diversified agriculture is finally taking serious root after years of uncertainty.

Government can and should make a difference in our quality of life. However, our state’s economic success now i more than ever i is highly dependent on what happens in the rest of the world. Globalization is a fact of life. Therefore, we dare not be content with the status quo. We must seek new opportunities for our state. We need to continually assess and update our past successes if we want a truly great future.

Nevertheless, we must deal with the critical issues of today. I see five key ones. They should surprise no one.

Transportation problems exist on every island. Sitting stalled in traffic is no more fun in Wailuku than it is in Honolulu, Kona or Lihue. However, the causes, the effects and solutions in each instance are different. There is no single, right answer. Our quest for effective solutions will require imagination, creativity and hard work by the State Administration, the Counties and those of us in the Legislature. Private sector involvement will be needed as well. It’s time to stop complaining about traffic and start doing something about it.

Housing has become an equally vexing problem. The high demand and short supply of housing on all islands have driven prices out of reach for many families. The dream of home ownership i or just renting a small apartment i has disappeared for many. While home ownership is something we all want, we must have a solid supply of rental housing for those at lower income levels and those who are currently homeless. The affordable housing and homeless task forces recently unveiled their recommendations. Their reports will serve as a springboard for our discussions. But I invite others to join the dialogue. We’ll need the best minds and the best ideas if we are to address this issue effectively.

Our housing and transportation needs are exceedingly complex, as are the potential solutions. There are no instant fixes. Effective answers will require teamwork, money and time. But we cannot wait. We must put the quest for workable solutions to both problems at the top of our priority list. It may well take the two years of this legislative session to develop good answers. If that’s what it takes, so be it. All the more reason to start right now.

Following on from our work of last session, this House remains committed to improving public education. Act 51 was a significant achievement, and the DOE under Superintendent Hamamoto is taking the change mandate seriously. However, we all recognize that the job has only just begun. We need to make sure the DOE has the tools to effectively implement Act 51 and that we have a clear vision of how to build on what’s been started. We must keep our legislative pledge to put students first.

Similarly, the ice legislation we passed last session broke substantial new ground. Still, we have more work to do. The ice problem i and the criminal and social problems that stem from it i continue to plague our communities. We must strengthen our substance abuse laws appropriately and insure we are doing our best with the prevention, education and rehabilitation programs we have in place. Fighting ice remains a priority.

Members, we need to take a serious look at the job situation in Hawai’i as well. We may have the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, but our workers are certainly not among the best paid in the nation. With our cost of living, we need a greater number of better-paying jobs. Given our traffic problems, we must work with the private sector to put more jobs in the communities where people live. And we need contingency plans to help us cope with the types of employment problems that could stem from disruptions in the world economy or corporate shake-ups here at home.

That’s why I’m particularly interested in seeing that we support the initiative to homeport an aircraft carrier group at Pearl Harbor. Such a move will bring hundreds of new jobs i good paying jobs i not just to Pearl Harbor, but to Leeward O’ahu if Kalaeloa becomes the primary support base for the group.

There are other issues, of course, such as the flood damage at UH Manoa and the impact military deployments continue to have on our people and communities. Nothing is more personal than students not having the educational resources they need or families having to adjust to a service member being sent overseas. We need to support those caught in such situations and act accordingly.

We can’t just be reactive, however. We absolutely must plan for the future as well. Our resources i in terms of people, land and dollars i are limited. If we squander what we have on short-term fixes, we run the risk of jeopardizing our future. The longer-term questions are not always easy. Nor are they necessarily popular. But we can’t ignore them.

Americans love instant fixes. We see something broken; we want to fix it now. But that’s not always the best answer. Being good stewards of both our dreams and our resources means taking a longer-term perspective. We must set the right goals… develop good plans… and deliver measurable progress year in and year out.

Here are some questions we ought to ask ourselves as we work through this session:

* What do we desire in terms of population and economic growth?
* What price are we willing to pay for an infrastructure to support that growth?
* What quality of life do we want five, ten, fifteen years into the future?
* How can we best protect the aina, the sea that surrounds us, and the ecology of these islands?
* How can we best prepare ourselves for the changes that inevitably will come from beyond our shores?
* And, finally, what is the Hawai’i we want to pass on to our children and their children?

If you want a specific example of what I mean, look at our shorelines. We took action years ago to protect the public’s right of access to our beaches and to insure the state’s sovereignty over the shores to the high-water mark, but today we are seeing more and more of our shoreline taken up by private development. Do we want a future where we can see the ocean only from a distance or from exclusive properties?

I’d like to see us establish a land bank program for our most critical shorelines. Our shorelines are central to the character and charm of our islands. They are cherished by residents and visitors alike. They represent a sensitive environment that we must protect and preserve before it is too late. We’ve got too many rock walls lining our shores and too many eroding beaches. We must act on behalf of future generations.

In Rosa Say’s book she describes the value of `Imi ola. She defines it as “seeking life in its highest form.” ‘Imi ola tells us that we each have within ourselves the power and ability to create a destiny of our own choosing. It calls on us to accept that challenge and reminds us that we are each capable of great things.

As representatives, we should:

* settle for nothing less than the very best answers,
* always be mindful of the direct effect government has on each citizen,
* commit ourselves to a truly sustainable future for these islands and their people,
* and not let comfortable ways of doing things get in the way of answering new challenges.

As I look at the faces in this chamber i both on the floor and in the gallery i I’m excited. If each of us brings our best energy, talents and intelligence to the legislative process this session, we can succeed and succeed big. Together we can be a truly formidable force. We can have a positive impact on the life of our state and its people for years to come. A sincere mahalo to each of you for believing in what government can do for its citizens. I look forward with anticipation to the journey we are about to undertake together.

Thank you and aloha.