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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

A nation awash in money?

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Columnist

"The nation is awash in extra money," White House budget director Mitch Daniels said yesterday. And no doubt he's right, at least about the part of the nation he knows best. For just a few minutes, though, I'd like to show Daniels a few parts of my nation he's not familiar with, the places where some people aren't doing so swimmingly.

• I'd take him to the Institute of Human Services in Iwilei, where nearly 300 desperate people line up for food and a place to sleep each night.

• I'd take him to Waikiki, where workers at the former Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Hotel were picketing this weekend. They were among 200 longtime union members fired in a cost-cutting move without severance pay when Aston was brought in to manage the hotel earlier this year.

• I'd show him around Kailua, Hawai'i Kai and Kapolei, where a lot of well-off professional people I know are using their $300 tax rebate to make a small dent in their mountain of credit card debt.

• And I'd take him back to last week's Made In Hawai'i festival at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall, where tens of thousands of hard-working people gave up part of their holiday weekend looking for flea-market style bargains amid the countless booths selling artless craft pieces, tasteless food samples and tacky home decorating products.

While I'm at it, I think I'll introduce Daniels to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who is in the Islands this week, apparently trying to understand our problems by flying over them.

According to an Army spokeswoman, Norton is on a 10-day swing through Hawai'i that in part will focus on the military's continued use of Makua Valley as an artillery range. Part of her education includes a briefing by military officials and a helicopter tour over the valley.

Here's a free tourist tip, Gayle: Get on the ground and talk to some real people out in Wai'anae, the ones whose hearts are torn over the desecration of what they consider sacred ground. Maybe then you'll get a real feel for the lay of the land, which is just about all we have in Hawai'i.

Back in Washington yesterday, Daniels was trying to explain to the world why the Bush administration expects a surplus of just $1 billion this year, when the figure was $123 billion just four months ago.

A combination of a slower economy, tax cuts and new spending initiatives appears to be eating away at the surplus, but Daniels said everyone should stay focused on the long-term picture, in which the economy will get much better.

"The federal government, even at a time of economic weakness, is taking in vastly more money than it needs," Daniels said. "We have a budget that's in great shape, an economy that's not."

Gee, thanks, Mitch. I bet all the folks at IHS, the Aston

Hotel and in all the credit-counseling offices around O'ahu never thought about it like that. And I'll bet Interior Secretary Gayle Norton didn't give it a second thought while flying over Makua in an Army helicopter.