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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Democrats still see growth in government

House Speaker Calvin Say's biggest disappointment so far in this year's legislative session? No tax hike.

Speaking to a reporter in governmentese, Say said he's disappointed that lawmakers failed "to address other forms of revenue enhancements in anticipation of the growth of government."

"Revenue enhancements," for the uninitiated, are tax hikes.

Now, there's a time and a place for raising taxes, but certainly not here, not now. Lawmakers only last year finished a series of tax reductions designed to boost business investment and counter the persistent notion of Hawai'i as a "tax hell." A tax hike now would spoil that effort and cancel any benefits from it.

But it's not talk of higher taxes that should shock us, not coming from an influential Democrat. What should really worry us is Say's assumption that Hawai'i needs a bigger state government.

There's no doubt that some segments of government must grow — most obviously, the schools. There's a teacher shortage. We must hire. It's unavoidable.

But the overall size of government must depend on the size of the economy that must support it. If the economy isn't growing, then the government mustn't grow. If teachers must be hired, then some other function should be reduced.

By and large, we're still saddled with a government that reflected the double-digit growth of the 1980s. It's still too big for today's economy.

And yet here are Speaker Say and Senate President Robert Bunda warning of tax hikes to come to support bigger government.

With thinking like that on the table, no wonder the Republicans are so optimistic for their political future.