Lawmakers, Ige unveil legislative package that aims to make Hawaii more affordable

  • Two hundred family units at La’ilani Apartments are among 1,221 affordable housing units being sold by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. to a Hawaii and California real estate development partnership. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Gov. David Ige speaks at the Keahuolu Courthouse dedication held Tuesday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — As the Hawaii Legislature gears up for the 2020 session, leaders from the state House and Senate, along with Gov. David Ige, announced on Tuesday a legislation package to tackle critical economic issues that have long-plagued Hawaii’s residents: income inequality, affordable housing and early education.

Included in the legislation is a proposal to increase the state minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2021 and to $13 an hour in 2024.

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The legislation — if passed during the Legislature’s next session, which begins today — also would provide more than $75 million in tax relief by making the state earned income tax credit refundable and permanent, meaning qualified families could get a cash refund of up to $380, as well as making the food excise tax credit a flat $150 rate.

To address affordable housing, a proposed bill would authorize $200 million in general obligation bonds to support infrastructure development on lands owned by the University of Hawaii at West Oahu for development that will include affordable housing, as well as $75 million for neighbor island housing projects.

Legislation also would identify publicly owned land that can be used to develop 99-year lease hold units, half of which would be reserved for working-class families earning 140% of the area median income.

“Although it may seem a little modest, we believe that, as a package, this concept of tax relief as well as minimum wage increase will help our struggling, working families,” Oahu state Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts, said during a press conference Tuesday in Honolulu.

The lack of affordable child care is another a barrier for many families working to improve economic circumstances.

A bill in the legislative package would create a public-private model to help increase capacity at existing private child care facilities supported with public funds and develop new facilities for early learning programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a news release from the Legislature.

Legislation also would create a new “Schools Facilities Agency” to oversee major school construction and repair projects.

Although it is proposed that $1.5 million in general funds would be allocated to fund the new agency, according to documents from the state, following the news conference it was unclear how lawmakers plan to fund other portions of their proposals.

According to the news release, the bill package tackles issues highlighted in an Aloha United Way ALICE — asset limited, income constrained, employed — report which looked at economic hardships facing working individuals and families in Hawaii.

“What my colleagues and I are proposing today to address the high cost of living in Hawaii will directly support individuals and families who are struggling the most to make ends meet,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki of Oahu said in the release. “Every dollar counts when you are trying to stretch each paycheck just to meet basic needs. By increasing wages and tax benefits, investing in child care, and creating more affordable housing units, the Legislature, together with public and private partners, is working to end the cycle of poverty.”

Ige said he was excited about the proposal.

“This is a historic agreement, a coming together, an alignment of priorities to really focus on those working middle class individuals who are struggling to make ends meet, really focused on putting more money in their pockets,” he said during the press conference.

Senate President Ronald Kouchi said that in addition to the partnership between House and Senate leadership, community organizations have held meetings and conferences between legislative sessions that has “helped us get a better focus on issues we’re trying to address.”

“… I am very proud of the fact that in the divisive times that are occurring nationally, that we are coming together here in Hawaii … in what we hope will be an unprecedented package for the people of Hawaii,” he said.

Big Island Sen. Lorraine Inouye hadn’t heard about the proposal when reached Tuesday afternoon, but said she would support the initiative “because I think those are the particular needs that our constituents have been letting us know (about) … .”

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Messages left for Big Island Sens. Kai Kahele and Dru Kanuha were not returned by deadline.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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