Lingle targets education, economy in first address

Revisiting many of the themes she focused on during her campaign, Gov. Linda Lingle today said she wants to get politics out of government, reform public education, improve healthcare and — despite the state’s fiscal challenges — reduce the tax burden on Hawaii residents. Lingle, Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years, presented her vision for the future to a joint session of the state Legislature in her “State of the State” address.

Lingle also asked for Legislative support to make a $10.3 million payment for ceded lands revenues for Native Hawaiians, greater autonomy for counties, and consideration of a proposal to introduce drug testing in Hawaii schools.

Speaking before members of the Democratically-controlled state House and Senate, Lingle called for openness and cooperation. “We need each other,” she said. “Let’s face it, one party rule, whether it was Republicans 40 years ago or Democrats in recent times, has not served the people well.”

“Like it or not, we are in this together,” Lingle said.

On cleaning up Hawaii government, she proposed legislation that would provide for mandatory prison sentences for public officials who abuse the public’s trust, prevent political contributions from businesses that benefit from non-bid state contracts, and change the “unbelievable” law that currently requires election precinct chairs to be members of the same political party as the governor.

And she said campaigning should never be part of a state job description.

“No state worker should ever be required or pressured to attend a political fundraiser or to hold a sign on the side of the road,” Lingle said. “Any state worker who ever feels pressured to engage in any kind of political activity should report it to my office immediately. In my administration there will be zero tolerance for any such behavior.”

Gov. Lingle also proposed an open and transparent online bidding system for state contracts, which she said was suggested by state procurement office manager Aaron Fujioka and described as a “reverse version of eBay.”

Said the governor: “The days of who you know being more important than what you know are pau.”

Lingle also formally proposed dismantling the statewide school system and introducing a network of sevel locally locally-elected school boards, a plan that was a cornerstone of her campaign.

“Hawaii’s public school system is broken,” she said, noting that she’s clearly not alone in her evaluation. “The people closest to the situation, the teachers and administrators themselves, reportedly send their own children to private schools at a rate dramatically higher than that of the general public. I suspect that the same could be said of business leaders and politicians.

“There is nothing wrong with a parent’s decision to send his or her children to the school where they are most likely to thrive,” Lingle said. “What is wrong is that not every parent has this option.”

In addition to shifting to local control of public schools — a change that she said should be decided by a statewide ballot referendum — the governor also called for greater support for charter schools, from better funding to eliminating the requirement that employees join existing government and teacher unions.

“The current DOE attitude toward charter schools is benign neglect at best and antagonistic at worst,” Lingle said.

She asked that discipline be encouraged through teachers empowered to remove disruptive students from their classrooms, and that school principals be excluded from unions. “Hawaii is the only state in America in which principals belong to a union,” she said. “Principals are a part of management. They have no place in a union.”

Educational alternatives like schools within a school, magnet schools, e-schooling and home schooling should also be encouraged, Lingle said.

And Lingle said the proposal by Sen. Robert Bunda to implement drug testing in schools deserves consideration, and asked Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona to lead a community brainstorming session on the matter. “Sure there are lots of issues to resolve with such a program, but the lives of our children are at stake, as well as the safety of our communities,” Lingle said.

On the economy, the governor limited her push for tax cuts to a universal reduction in personal income tax. “Given the fiscal reality we face, the only tax relief I am asking for in this budget is to reduce the income taxes of those who earn the least,” Lingle said. “We do this by increasing the standard deduction with a goal of raising it to 50 percent of the federal standard deduction within three years, and eventually to 100 percent.”

Lingle proposed a plan that would provide prescription drugs to the most vulnerable, urged renewed focus on long-term care options, and suggested that the state excise tax be lifted from private health insurance company policies — a move that she said would improve competition. To encourage new providers to enter the Hawaii market, she also proposed that local providers HMSA and Kaiser Permanente be prevented from sitting on the board that recommends which companies be allowed to set up shop in the islands.

The governor stressed that Hawaii’s business image needs to change, and that existing bureaucratic and legal barriers be eliminated.

“Recently, a worker was fired for stealing. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that he could receive compensation for the stress he felt from getting fired for stealing,” Lingle noted. “This is exactly the kind of nonsense that has caused so many businesses to steer clear of Hawaii.”

Hawaii’s counties should get more money and more control over their own communities, Lingle said. Since traffic tickets are issued by county police and processed by county offices, she said revenues generated by uncontested tickets should go entirely back to the counties. And she said counties should be able to set their own policies on fireworks permits.

The governor also told lawmakers to “finish your work” and to make the recent change in the age of concent from 14 to 16 a permanent one. The 2001 law presently has a sunset provision to expire at the end of June.

Other topics that Lingle said she plans to address in the coming week include homeland security, public safety, real autonomy for UH, and protecting the environment.

The governor closed her State of the State address with words of thanks for the men and women of the armed forces, many of which are now being deployed around the globe. “Regardless of your opinion on the situation in the Middle East and what our response should be, please remember that the members of the armed forces are our own sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and neighbors.”

Lingle said: “Our journey for the next couple of years will not be easy… But I am up to the task and I expect you are as well.”

Gov. Linda Lingle formally introduced the members of her cabinet to the state Legislature in her State of the State address. They are:

Georgina Kawamura
Director, Dept. of Budget & Finance

Mark Bennett
Attorney General

Russ Saito
Comptroller, Dept. of Accounting & General Services

Sandra Kunimoto
Chair, Board of Agriculture

Ted Liu
Director, Dept. of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT)

Mark Recktenwald
Dir., Dept. of Commerce & Consumer Affairs

General Bob Lee
Adjutant General, Dept. of Defense

Micah Kane
Chairman, Hawaiian Homes Commission

Dr. Chiyome Fukino
Director, Dept. of Health

Kathy Watanabe
Director, Dept. of Human Resources Development

Lillian Kohler
Director, Dept. of Human Services

Nelson Befitel
Director, Dept. of Labor & Industrial Relations

Peter Young
Chairman, Board of Land & Natural Resources

Rod Haraga
Director, Dept. of Transportation

Jim Propotnick
Interim Director , Dept. of Public Safety

Kurt Kawafuchi
Deputy Director of Taxation

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