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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Trick or treat? We got tricked

Halloween is a fitting time for The Incredible Shrinking Legislature to wind down its special session on the economic fallout of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers dealt adequately with noncontroversial measures to extend airport security, tourism promotion and benefits for newly unemployed workers.

But when it came to real economic stimulus to get the unemployed back to work, the Haunted House and Spooktacular Senate disappeared like ghostly vapors.

All parties agreed that the state needed to get more money into the economy, but they couldn't come together on how to do it. Gov. Ben Cayetano wanted government construction projects, legislative Democrats promoted tax credits to boost private construction and Republicans sought tax cuts to encourage investment and consumer spending.

In the end, legislators retreated to a timid course of half-measures and outright inaction, topped off by a long and ugly battle over emergency powers for Cayetano.

We needed unity and purpose to restore our confidence in a time of peril, and our leaders gave us Profiles in Discouragement.

The absence of new ideas was striking. The governor's plan for $1 billion in state capital improvements, the Democrats' proposed tax credits for hotel construction and the Republican push for cuts in excise taxes were all recycled ideas that had failed to pass muster before.

The session was bipartisan only in its faintheartedness and small thinking. Republican Chairwoman Linda Lingle advised lawmakers not to worry about being bold. She criticized newspaper editorials advocating brave and decisive action over caution.

Well, we tried caution and indecision after the 1991 Gulf War and it brought us 10 years of economic misery. Is it too much to ask that we try a new approach, that we ask our leaders for extraordinary courage and creativity in extraordinary times? Is it too much to ask that they put politics aside for a change and refrain from name-calling and threats of lawsuits?

My Hilo High classmate Robert Kiyosaki, now a financial self-help guru on the Mainland, says those who fail financially habitually say, "I can't afford it," while those who succeed always ask, "How can I afford it?"

That's our problem in a nutshell. Legislators on both sides of the aisle started and ended their session with a whining chorus of, "We can't afford it." They brushed off voices asking, "How can we afford to be bold?"

What if instead of working independently and at odds with each other, Cayetano and legislative Democrats and Republicans had sat down together and refused to leave the room until they meshed their competing proposals into a cohesive program of meaningful construction spending, tax credits and tax cuts that all parties could endorse?

They could have given themselves a valuable head start on the regular legislative session beginning in January, and adjusted then to favor elements of the program that seemed to be delivering the best results in the economy.

The petty sniping and disunity among our leaders is devastating to public confidence. When optimism is lost that the common good will be served, the natural instinct of individuals and organizations is to look out only for our own interests and the problem is compounded.

Two weeks ago, House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro promised that the special session would represent the "best thinking" of lawmakers and those they consulted.

Sadly, I think he was right. Nowhere is Hawaii's brain drain more evident than in our political institutions, and the dismal outcome of the special session may indeed be the best work this group is capable of.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net