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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2001

UH offers action plan to revive economy

"Let's stop dithering," we pleaded in this space last week as tourism dried up in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks and lawmakers fretted about the dangers of doing anything about it.

Two men who aren't dithering are Gov. Ben Cayetano, who has called for borrowing $1 billion to spend on needed construction projects to stimulate our economy, and University of Hawai'i President Evan Dobelle, who yesterday provided a detailed shopping list of projects that badly need building.

At a news conference yesterday, Dobelle said "we are in a moment of profound consequence," which means that our politicians have yet another chance to let this state meander in mediocrity, as usual.

Or they can seize the opportunity that this crisis presents. The wonderful thing about spending on education infrastructure is that even if the construction funding fails to prime our economic pump to the extent we hope, we'll still be left with plenty to show for it — projects that we should have been building all along.

Dobelle proposes two packages, one using $400 million from Cayetano's proposed $1 billion construction program, and another using a separate $300 million.

The second package would include the planned new medical school, with adjoining cancer and biotech research centers. The university, after careful study, has now decided to put the med school where Cayetano and Dr. Edwin Cadman, the medical school dean, wanted it all along, in Kaka'ako, close to most of the city's existing hospitals.

Funding for this new biomedical campus, which promises to be an important economic asset for the state, would come half from the state's tobacco fund, and half from private fund-raising.

The other package includes creation at long last of the UH-West O'ahu campus — not in abandoned sugar land, but in downtown Kapolei, bringing, says Dobelle, "the dynamism of a college town to O'ahu's second city." This package also adds important facilities to UH's Hilo, Manoa, Kaua'i and nascent Kona campuses, and badly needed repairs at Manoa and Hilo.

Dobelle makes the important point that none of his proposed projects was dreamed up to take advantage by the sudden availability of construction money. They're all part of an existing — if evolving — master plan.

Dobelle says embarking on these projects — breaking ground on some of them as soon as three months from now — would provide "full employment for Hawai'i's construction trades for the better part of five years," plus expand the university system to accommodate as many as 20,000 more students with the related jobs they would bring.

It obviously also would go a long way toward restoring the tarnished reputation of our university system.

Our Legislature meets Oct. 15 in special session to consider emergency measures to put the wind back in this state's economic sails. Yes, lawmakers must scrutinize the proposals of Dobelle and others with great care. But our overwhelming need now is for action.