Friday | December 15, 2017
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Senators debate governor’s innovation spending plan

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee is mulling whether to fund Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposed innovation initiative.

The Democrat is asking for $20 million to fund a new program to help spur entrepreneurship in Hawaii.

The so-called HI Growth Initiative would provide investment funding for Hawaii businesses and resources to help new startups grow.

Abercrombie says the program would help diversify the state’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism and the military.

House lawmakers voted to approve the proposal earlier this month, although the bill that passed the House didn’t specify how much money would go to the program. The House’s state budget proposal also didn’t include money for the plan.

Senators in the Ways and Means Committee met Monday to vote on the initiative but chose to delay decision-making until Wednesday to give them more time to review testimony.

That’s also when they plan to publish the Senate’s state budget proposal.

Supporters of the plan say that the funding could invigorate Hawaii’s economy by providing needed resources to aspiring entrepreneurs. The program could help fill a funding gap that happens after startups receive initial investments but before they can get venture capital funding, they said.

Karl Fooks from the Hawaii Strategic Development Corp. says Hawaii’s economy has grown just 0.8 percent over the past 20 years compared to the national average of 2.6 percent.

He says the tourism industry is mature and the state needs to create new incentives for new industries.

But opponents worry whether the program is the best use of government money.

Sen. Sam Slom, the state’s only Republican senator, criticizes the initiative as “government-oriented.”

He says the government’s track record for business initiatives is poor and that lawmakers should do a better job of listening to the private sector, rather than favoring government involvement.