Remarks by House Speaker-Opening of Hawaii's 22nd Legislature

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Calvin Say Image Honored guests, members, ladies and gentlemen. Aloha and welcome. The 22nd session of the Hawaii State Legislature convenes today with a mandate from the people for change. Our families and communities are being tested in ways that question our resolve and our ability to meet the challenges before us. All around us, the world seems on the brink of renewed chaos — the international scene threatens war, the American economy is faltering. More than 35 states, including our own, face wrenching budget decisions. The optimism of many of us has eroded. Our seniors are forced to keep working. Our most important institutions have been wracked by scandal. Corporate officers face indictment for fraud and theft, leaving their companies bankrupt and their employees facing ruin. Politicians have betrayed our trust seeking personal gain at the community’s expense. Our challenges appear far more difficult and even dangerous than they were just two years ago. In this time of turmoil, Hawaii voters made an historic decision. We elected the first woman as governor in our state’s history. The fact that she is also a Republican is not my concern. She is our governor — we need each other’s help, and we must find a way to work together to meet the challenges of our time. I speak to you today, not just as an elected leader, but as a citizen and a small businessman, a neighbor and a friend. We must not give up hope. The promise lies within each of us to create a better future for our children, but to do that, we must make tough decisions. First of all we must begin by recognizing that the days of asking, “What’s in it for me?” are over. We must forge a new partnership where each of us who is able carries a fair share of the load. We must find a way to continue to protect those among us who cannot help themselves. Many citizens have lost faith in government to do the right thing. We can begin to restore their trust by putting government on the same kind of performance standards that we are now asking of our children in school. That means that government sets objectives that are measurable, specific and achievable. When a government agency says a program will create better-paying jobs, people have a right to expect that promise to be kept. This session we will mandate new performance standards that ensure politicians and government agencies do not make promises they cannot keep. To help us achieve this goal, the auditor’s watchdog authority will be expanded. We will make sure that our own house is in order. Campaign finance reform will be a priority this session. Corporations and special interest groups cannot be allowed to use their campaign contributions to unduly influence the people’s business. And politicians who violate the people’s trust must know the consequences of that violation will be severe. We will put more decision-making power into the hands of the people we serve. Our communities have a right to a bigger say in how their schools are run. But at the same time we should be careful and not waste our time trying to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from the experience of other communities where district school boards were tried and failed. These experiments, which looked so good at the start, failed because they did not give the schools the one thing they need — accountability. And we already know that accountability is a significant problem for our schools. Just last week, a national survey ranked Hawaii schools as ninth lowest in the nation in terms of accountability. It should be clear to all of us by now — we can no longer accept status quo schools. We will propose significant reforms in school administration. These reforms will give our schools greater authority and flexibility, help them to obtain needed resources, and build and manage community support. Most important of all, these reforms will provide new standards for accountability. The state system of school repair and maintenance is woefully inadequate. This is one critical area where community-based decisions are the right way. Local schools know what needs to be fixed. Government should provide the resources and then get out of the way. We will pass legislation to allow schools to make their own contract decisions and speed up repair and maintenance. Parents and community members need a greater voice in the operation of their neighborhood schools. We will propose the establishment of a community-based school board initiative. Imagine what we can do if teachers, parents, administrators and students set their goals together. Passing a standardized test is not enough. We must teach our kids how to learn, and help them learn how to think. Sept. 11 taught us a lesson we can never forget — dependence on one industry or one resource is a dependence we can no longer afford. We must diversify our economic base and lessen our dependence on outside resources. When our nation was attacked, Hawaii’s economic engine took a direct hit. There are hopeful signs of recovery, and our hard work in the Special Session has produced some results, but Hawaii’s economy has not fully recovered. If our nation goes to war, defense spending in Hawaii will decrease, That is a real possibility and it must strengthen our resolve to diversify Hawaii’s job base. We must act to help local business improve job retention. Existing small businesses are the backbone of our economy. We must help them grow. To help in this effort, we will propose a targeted job creation tax initiative. This measure will help diversify our industries, and encourage outside businesses to bring new jobs to Hawaii. Tax incentives can be a vital part of an overall economic strategy, but the people and companies who use them must also be held to a standard. New credit programs must undergo regular financial checkups and be held accountable for results. The Tax Review Commission’s recent report to the Legislature is right on track. We believe its recommendations are a solid base on which to build tax incentives for our New Economy. It is important that all of us understand one thing — economic development is not a business agenda, it is a way to accomplish Hawaii’s social goals: *Quality, affordable health care for the sick and elderly; *A healthy environment for our children to grow up in; *Higher-paying jobs to help support our families; *Social equality for all of Hawaii’s citizens; and *The preservation of values built into our host culture. The ultimate goal of economic development is to benefit our people. We must shape our economic development in a way that’s right for us, not special interests or the very wealthy. Today in our nation’s capital, old thinking rules the administration’s policies. These worn-out ideas propose enormous tax cuts for the very rich while the national deficit begins climbing toward historic highs. Once again, we are borrowing on our children’s future. These same tired ideas come from a president who believes the elimination of dividend taxes will ignite the next economic boom. These measures are sure to bring happy days to the White House, but they will not put food on our tables or fix a school’s leaky roof. What the Republican administration in Washington fails to realize is our critical need for a comprehensive domestic strategy. Even people who worked for this administration say it has no domestic policy. Instead, it focuses on its foreign affairs agenda and manages the home front with public relations tactics and Republican programs that benefit the wealthy. Let’s look at the facts. The latest analysis of Federal Reserve data shows that 85 percent of the stocks in this country are owned by the very rich. The president says if we help these people, the rest of us will benefit later on. Twenty years ago, they called that “trickle-down” economics. Given our current budget situation, we may not have enough time to wait for the trickle. We believe we have a better idea — an idea that focuses on our future here in Hawaii, a future that is built by increasing the knowledge base of our economy through research, education, skills and technical innovation. We believe the
most effective way of managing this future is through partnerships between government and local enterprises. Government will do a better job if it engages in these partnerships as a facilitator and not a regulator. Our businesses, schools and non-profits need a significant infusion of technology to compete in this knowledge-based economy. We cannot accomplish this alone. Together, with the help of private partnerships, we can achieve greater efficiency and measurable results. In 1881, King David Kalakaua and his Attorney General turned to one of the most brilliant minds in history. The King asked a man named Edison to study the possibility of using power from Hawaii’s volcanoes to produce electricity to light Hawaii’s homes. It was more than 80 years after the King’s discussion with Edison that Hawaii began geothermal exploration. Today, geothermal energy provides almost 20 percent of energy needs on the Island of Hawaii. And still, there are small and vocal groups that would like to turn back the clock. We can no longer afford to ignore an energy source that is in our own backyard. The time has come to face a hard truth about Hawaii’s energy needs — imported oil supplies 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy. No place else in the United States is so critically dependent on imported oil. Unlike the mainland, Hawaii cannot turn to neighboring states to make up for any temporary or permanent energy shortages. Unlike the mainland, imported oil is the single thread that can completely unravel Hawaii’s future. Geothermal can be a bigger part of our energy future, but so must other alternative energy sources. We are blessed with abundant sunlight, but few of Hawaii government buildings take advantage of solar power. We can do better. This year, we will extend renewable energy tax credits because we know they work. And we will begin a program to mandate the conversion of public buildings to solar energy resources. Just this month, Hawaiian Electric announced a promising new program with a $10 million investment in alternative energy development. This is a promising first step. But we can do more. We will speed up this process by seeking a statewide energy audit. The people of Hawaii are counting on you, Gov. Lingle, to lay out a compelling agenda in your State of the State address. But even your most avid supporters concede that dramatic breakthroughs may be difficult. I have great hopes for the governor. And I have great hopes for Hawaii’s lawmakers. Working together, we can meet the challenges of our time. I also appreciate our new governor’s efforts to help with the issue of interim payment of revenues to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. However, we have found a way to resolve this issue expeditiously without having to go further through the legislative process. Over the last several weeks, the Chair of OHA, together with legal counsel, and the Chair and Vice-chair of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, worked out a solution. Haunani Apoliona, Ezra Kanoho, Sol Kahoohalahala, through your efforts our obligations to the Hawaiian people will be fulfilled. $10.3 million in deferred payment will be made. Members, on your desk is a small gift from me. It is a symbol of what we can accomplish together. The bamboo plant is an ancient Chinese symbol of strength and good fortune The empty center of the stem represents a virtuous person with an open mind. The bamboo thrives because it is flexible. I hope we can be like this too — flexible, but strong. Aloha and mahalo.