Gov. Green outlines plans to address Hawaiʻi’s problems in State of the State
January 23, 2023, 5:56 PM HST
New Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green said in his inaugural State of the State address on Monday that now is the time for Hawai‘i to move forward by taking bold action rooted in shared values — and he’s asking state lawmakers to do the same.
Green delivered the speech to a joint session of the 32nd Hawai‘i State Legislature. He pledged to take on affordable housing, climate change, homelessness and poverty; and he presented his plan about how to tackle these long-standing, challenging issues.
“This is more than just an update on our progress as a state,” the governor said. “This is our beginning, our huliau — a moment to share our vision and our values.”
In looking forward, Green first reflected on the past few years. The state endured a once-in-a-century pandemic. It wrestled with a housing crisis that forced too many people to leave the islands. The state witnessed the risks and consequences of being too dependent on tourism and it is continuing to suffer environmental threats from pollution and climate change.
“But even in our darkest hours, Hawai‘i’s values shone through, the character and soul of our people prevailed and we found a new dawn of hope,” the governor said. “Through these difficult times, we showed that when we stand together, when we put our values into action, we can meet any challenge and overcome any problem, no matter how large or difficult it seems.”
Business as usual will no longer work — there’s too much on the line.
The state motto — “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” — sends a powerful message and Green said now is the time to live up to the wisdom it provides, the guidance of the state Constitution and the mandate people have given lawmakers and the state’s leadership.
“It is not only our right, but our kuleana — our responsibility — to take action to control our destiny and preserve our quality of life for our people,” Green said.
Each day without action means another family is forced to move out of the state, another child sleeping on the street, another local business shuttering, another natural resource put at risk. Inaction equals missed opportunity to heal Hawai‘i, do what is right and preserve the islands for future generations.
“We owe the people of Hawai‘i an effective government that takes action,” Green said.
He listed several high priority items related to housing, homelessness, the cost of living, climate, environment and mental health.
- Additional funds for ‘Ohana Zones that put homeless people into permanent housing
- More resources for the Hawai‘i State Loan Repayment Program to help pay off educational loans for primary care and behavioral health providers
- More than 60 new positions to expand nursing and medical programs throughout the University of Hawai‘i system with special emphasis on behavioral health
- $50 million for the expansion of the ICU and surgical units at Hilo Medical Center
- Making pre-kindergarten universally available to Hawai‘i families.
The biggest factor affecting the cost of living in the state is affordable housing. Green said it is his administration’s top priority.
“Safe, affordable and stable housing is a human right, and it is more than just a place to live,” Green said. “It impacts our health, our identity, our sense of belonging.”
Green said he will make sure infrastructure is built so affordable housing can be expedited while also addressing policies and procedures that impede housing development. He and his Cabinet can’t do it on their own, however; they will coordinate with each of the state’s counties and stakeholders to get the work done.
The governor is proposing more than $1 billion of new housing investment. The funds would support the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority for renovating and upgrading public housing units, providing rental subsidies for low-income families and boosting financing for more affordable units through the Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corporation.
Green also will deliver on the Legislature’s commitment to fund the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, a priority of his administration: “I know you want answers. We will work with you to get this done.”
The conversation about housing also must include the unhoused.
“Homelessness should not be accepted as normal in our society,” Green said. “It shouldn’t be normal to avert our eyes from the suffering of another human being ever. We shouldn’t ever need to avoid our public places because homeless citizens have overwhelmed a park or street or sidewalk. We have come to accept the silent suffering that goes on for thousands of our people — in our parks, along our beaches, even here on the grounds of the state Capitol. Our homeless crisis is a strain on our aloha and a threat to our spirit.”
In the past, the governor said, efforts to address homelessness have emphasized enforcement and triage, with people being pushed from one neighborhood to another, moving from street to shelter or temporary housing, many of them finding themselves back where they started. While progress has been made getting people into homes in recent years, the number of people on the street continues to rise.
The state needs to shift its efforts from temporary fixes to permanent solutions, he said.
Green and his administration are committed to the development of 12 new Kauhale, villages of tiny homes, throughout the state. Ground soon will be broken for construction of one of them on the Big Island, the Kukuiola Emergency Shelter and Assessment Center in Kailua-Kona, that will have 64 units to meet the housing, social and health care needs of the people now on the streets and future residents for years to come.
It’s money well spent. Consider the Kailua-Kona Kauhale will be built at a cost of about $8,000 per unit, or roughly $500,000 for all 64. It costs $322,000 a year to support a person suffering from mental illness at the Hawai‘i State Hospital. So for less than the cost of keeping two people in such a hospital for one year, an entire low-cost community of permanent housing can be built, he said.
Green’s enhanced Kauhale Initiative will create low-footprint, low-cost housing with a village environment designed for common support, healing and progress.
“As long as we are in a housing crisis, we will treat it like an emergency,” the governor said. “So I’m going to do something a little untraditional. I’m going to take action now to address the homeless crisis in all its forms.”
Green signed an emergency proclamation in the middle of his address to lawmakers that goes into effect today, streamlining the construction process for Kauhale housing and removing unnecessary red tape, allowing for the rapid acquisition or construction of projects to quickly house those who are unhoused.
The emergency relief period will continue through March of this year unless terminated or superseded by a separate proclamation, whichever occurs first.
The governor will also request additional funding for the ‘Ohana Zones Program, which has preserved 358 beds/units statewide since its creation; served 5,510 people throughout the islands; and placed 1,368 people into permanent housing. It’s also added 469 new beds/units to the state’s shelter and housing inventory.
The additional funding would provide funds to each county, including $2 million for a multi-service project to end homelessness on the Big Island, $2 million for Maui County to support the continuation of Huliau supportive housing and $2 million for Kaua‘i County to support Kealaula at Pua Loke and add new supportive housing in ‘Ele‘ele.
Cost of living
Hawai‘i’s cost of living is the highest in the United States, nearly twice the national average.
“In Hawai‘i, we should not teeter on the brink of poverty in order to provide for our ‘ohana,” Green said. “One job should be enough to support a family.”
More than 40% of Hawai‘i’s families have problems making ends meet, something that was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2020, the share of households living below the federal poverty line of 15% and the share of those living below the 44% threshold for ALICE — or asset limited, income constrained, employed — households have increased. So, too, has the cost of living.
Native Hawaiian, Filipino and other ethnicities are even more likely to be living at or below the ALICE and poverty lines — 60% of Native Hawaiians and 59% of Filipino residents in the state now fall below the ALICE threshold.
Yet, support for those working families is still lacking.
The Green Affordability Plan cuts taxes and, if approved by legislators, would provide more than $300 million in tax relief to those who need it the most. The tax break would put money in the pockets of the state’s working families so they can purchase essential goods and services such as food, medicine and housing with every single dollar spent immediately, in turn stimulating the state’s economy.
The plan includes reforming the state’s tax code per recommendations from the 2020 Tax commission and would provide relief by shifting tax brackets to ensure working families aren’t burdened by inflation, more than doubling the standard deduction from $2,000 to $5,000 and doubling the personal exemption from $1,144 to $2,288.
Under the plan, every income bracket in the state would pay less state income tax, directly lowering the cost of living for every resident and keeping more money in the pockets of every taxpayer.
In addition, the plan would create a new educator tax credit of $500 per teacher, provide the state’s hardest hit residents with a renter’s credit of $350, make the food excise tax credit available to a full one-third of all taxpayers, and expand the earned income tax credit from 20% to 30% of the federal amount.
It also would expand the child and dependent care tax credit, with working families paying for day care, babysitters, summer camps, after-school care and adult day care being eligible for up to $10,000 of state support to offset the costs of fees for those types of care.
“When we invest in families, we invest in our future — and our return on investment is unlimited, as it will come back to us ten-fold,” Green said.
“As an island state, climate change does so many things,” Green said. “It threatens our economy, our culture, our environment and the sustainability of our way of life.”
The governor and his administration are committed to pursuing climate change strategies that are equitable, culturally responsive and resilient, including imposing a green fee on visitors to the state. Green proposes a $50 per-head visitor climate impact fee for visitors who use certain designated state-owned public recreational resources such as parks, trails and forests.
The revenues generated would be used to combat the impacts of climate change and conserve the state’s natural resources while augmenting destination management efforts.
Green and his administration also want to retool Hawai‘i’s economy to lead in green technology. They are pursuing opportunities with national and strategic international partners from Japan and around the Pacific to push the state to the forefront of green tech development and applying to bring up to $1 billion of federal and private investments to the state to pilot a regional hydrogen hub, emphasizing green hydrogen.
Other plans include seeking funding through the Inflation Reduction Act to expand the state’s renewable technology portfolio, establishing the Hawai‘i Climate Impact Special Fund to find and finance solutions to protect land and grow natural resources, and creating a Cabinet-level position for a senior climate advisor to help integrate climate solutions and mitigation strategies across all state departments and assist with implementation of funding for clean energy, climate and resiliency initiatives.
Unity, the dream and the state’s destiny
Green also spoke about plans to reposition the state to pursue global opportunities such as retooling tourism and expanding the reach into international markets with the goal of moving Hawai‘i’s economy beyond tourism, becoming energy independent and fulfilling the potential to become an economic and renewable energy leader in the Pacific.
Other projects he discussed during his address included a new sports stadium and a new correctional facility on O‘ahu. Green said he also will work with the Legislature to rebuild integrity and trust in government so corruption becomes a thing of the past.
The administration will hold everyone to the highest standards of ethics and accountability, including the federal government and its institutions, specifically calling out the U.S. Navy for its handling of the environmental disaster at Red Hill and advocating for shutting it down for good.
Green also tasked the state’s attorney general to address what he called “a chilling reality” described in the recent Missing and Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls Task Force report, which found that Native Hawaiian women and girls experience gender-based violence rates disproportionate to the population.
“The very recognition of this matter is a critical first step towards reckoning with the depth of this horrifying issue and we are committed to providing the resources to end these crimes against Native Hawaiian women,” the governor said.
But none of it can be done by the governor alone and it will take a unified front to take on all of the issues Green talked about Monday and more.
“Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads, a turning point in our history,” the governor said. “We face enormous challenges as a state and the strain of these challenges is slowly eroding the hopes and the dreams of our people.”
Green said thousands of families are voting with their feet, leaving the state in search of affordable housing and economic opportunity. Thousands more live on the street, suffering without help, without hope, and despairing for a better tomorrow. Climate change and industrial pollution threaten to permanently degrade the state’s land and water.
Green told lawmakers in his closing remarks: “‘The less foresighted may label us dreamers for expressing what may be regarded as overly grandiose thoughts.’ Gov. [John A.] Burns said that. ‘But dream we must, as we must pursue these dreams with vigor and energy if we are to attain the greatness that is so patently the destiny of Hawai‘i and its people.’ Gov. Burns was right.”
He said the state’s destiny is greatness, born of its people’s shared values — a greatness of family, community and love, of rich diversity, tolerance and unity, commitment, responsibility and hope, of reverence for natural and cultural heritage and a shared history.
“We are the inheritors of this dream and this destiny,” Green said. “Together, we will fulfill our destiny. Together, we will realize our dreams, and together, we will live up to the promise of Hawai‘i.”
To watch the governor’s entire State of the State address, click here.