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Revenues return amid “unusual” legislative session after two years of COVID hardships

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File photo courtesy: Office of Gov. David Ige (file 2021)

As the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Legislative Session came to a close, Governor David Ige reflected upon the shift from deficits during the first two years of the pandemic, to financial recovery and restoration of funding for various initiatives this year.

“This… was an unusual session, especially after two difficult sessions of cutting budgets. This was the first real opportunity to be able to move forward on initiatives and priorities that we haven’t been able to do for a while.”

–Gov. David Ige

According to the governor, “the Council on Revenues increased their revenue forecast every time that they met to the point where they added more than $6 billion in increased revenues, projected for the financial window.”

Historic funding for Native Hawaiian issues

This resulted in historic funding in some cases, most notably the more than $1 billion that the legislature committed to Native Hawaiian issues.

“We do believe that it allows us to really begin to fulfill the commitment of the Hawaiian Homestead Program, as well as meeting the financial needs of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” said Gov. Ige during a media briefing on Thursday.

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With over 28,000 native Hawaiians awaiting a homestead lot, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair William J. Ailā, Jr. said the work only begins here. “We look forward to the future with anticipation that the need for funding continues to be prioritized and that the voices that stand with us today continue to be bold tomorrow,” Ailā said in a release.

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Gov. Ige said the state is exploring different ways to provide more sustained support for the Hawaiian Home Lands program.

One of the ideas that surfaced was to take TAT funds and dedicate a portion of the Transient Accommodations Tax to the Hawaiian Homestead programs, which Gov. Ige said would provide more sustained, longer-term funding for the organization. He said an estimated 10% in TAT revenues would be a “pretty good starting point.” According to the governor, this would translate to $60 million to $80 million per year initially, and grow to upwards of $100 million per year moving forward.

“That’s one of those follow-up things that we’d need to look at,” he said. “As you may know, the Hawaiian Home Lands program was really built more than 100 years ago, on the whole notion that we would take revenues off of sugar leases to fund the homesteading programs… With sugar plantations all going away, I do think we need to find a more dedicated longer-term source of funding for the organization so that they can meet the waitlist requirements.”

Mauna Kea Management bill

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As for the Mauna Kea Management bill, Gov. Ige said, “I do support the notion of mutual stewardship, which I think the House and Senate Conferees, captured I think quite well. We do know that there are very specific requirements when it comes to land management. So I think we’ll be looking at the bill and making a final assessment in the next 45 days.”

DLNR issued a release earlier this week saying the legislation “leaves significant gaps that could result in worse management of Mauna Kea’s natural and cultural resources.”

Gov. Ige responded saying, “The challenge is that land management is a very important issue… There is clear direction in the state constitution about how public lands should be managed. So we will be going through the legislative proposal and looking at what is required in the constitution.”

COVID-19 and masking

Just last week, Gov. Ige announced the state’s transitions from emergency response to public health disease management, but on Thursday, he said he is concerned about increasing COVID-19 case counts.

On Wednesday, the seven day average had increased to 485.

“We continue to monitor the COVID cases in the hospitals and that has also slowly increased. The CDC has upgraded Hawaiʻi’s status from very low to medium level of virus activity, so I do think, and would like to remind everyone that we are not out of the woods when it comes to COVID,” Gov. Ige said.

According to the governor, he is not going to be looking at a statewide mask mandate at this point in time. “But I certainly would encourage everyone to wear a mask if they are indoors… if they are in a situation that they can’t maintain six feet. I think we all know what works, and we have to be smart about our interactions so that we can manage and keep the spread of COVID to a minimum,” he said.

The governor encourages people to continue to wear masks and take precautions. “We continue to make progress in the fight against COVID, but we are not over with COVID at this point in time,” he said.

US Supreme Court leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade

While not related to the legislative session, Gov. Ige answered a question about the leaked draft opinion, which indicates that the US Supreme Court may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion across the nation. 

“As you may be aware, Hawaiʻi was the first state in the country to legalize abortion for the women in our community,” said Gov. Ige. “I do know there is overwhelming support in our community for a woman’s right to choose. So based on my cursory review of the leaked draft, they certainly would be overturning Roe v. Wade, but really allowing the states to determine appropriate access to abortion and family planning services.”

Gov. Ige said he thinks women in the state of Hawaiʻi are “in a good place” because state law provides access.

Give and Take” in the legislative process

When asked if funds could have gone to the Rainy Day Fund or infrastructure, Gov. Ige noted that there is already a commitment of $500 million to the Rainy Day Fund. It’s less than the $1 billion that he had recommended, but he still called the appropriation a “significant investment.”

As for core infrastructure, he said the administration supports public pre-K, and $200 million was provided by the legislature to expand those programs. He said the CIP budget fared well with most of he administration’s priorities funded.

“I do think there’s always a give and take in the legislative process. I do think that we probably got 95% of our budget requests, and I do think a fair, overwhelming majority of the legislative proposals that we made have been passed through this legislature.”

–Gov. David Ige

Gov. Ige called it “a good session,” saying, “I think the legislature has responded to the needs of the community and they put together a pretty good package that impacts a lot in our community–especially those most I need.”

The governor thanked the legislature for their work this session saying the package and legislation is “responsive to the priority needs of our community.”

The governor will take the next 45 days to make an assessment of the legislative package.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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