Friday, January 26, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 26, 2001

Full text of Harris' State of the City address

'New' city government still carries price tag

What Honolulu heard from its mayor yesterday was less a report on what he is doing than it was a report on how he will do it.

In other words, in his State of the City speech yesterday, Mayor Jeremy Harris outlined a philosophy and style of governance as much as he reported on the activities of the city.

In that sense, it was a broad picture of an approach to governing that hints at how Harris will present himself as a candidate for governor in the near future.

And what is that style?

Harris envisions a high-tech government in which computers and technology replace bureaucrats and paper shuffling, a management policy that is driven by efficiency and flexibility rather than by union rights and civil service rules.

It is a style of governing that at least in appearance is heavily "inclusive," where town meetings, citizen participation and bottom-up decision-making are highlighted.

In short, it is something called "new government" and you can bet you’ll be hearing a great deal more of this in the months to come.

As with all things, words are one thing and deeds another. While many of the elements of a new-government approach are already in place at City Hall, the transformation Harris described yesterday remains a work in progress.

But clearly, a start has been made. And yesterday, Harris began to put philosophical context to his style of management.

As for specifics, Harris pointed to a long list of achievements and promised more high-tech access to the workings of City Hall, more citizen meetings and more economic diversification for Honolulu.

At the core of all city business, of course, are property taxes. And while he was somewhat vague, Harris seemed to be signaling the likelihood of some increase in property tax rates.

His administration has "effectively exhausted" streamlining and cost-saving measures, Harris said. Yet costs continue to rise and collective bargaining raises (which he committed to pay) will add another $58 million to the tab.

The mayor promised to work hard to keep property tax collections lower than they were in 1994, when he became mayor. But that is far from saying they will remain where they have been kept for the past three years, at around $393 million in total.

That shoe won’t drop officially until March 2, when Harris presents his new budget to the City Council. In the meantime, his task will be to continue selling the idea that his "new government" will be worth the price taxpayers will be asked to pay for it.

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