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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

Economic stimulus is needed in Hawai'i

The planets just weren't aligned for President Bush's amorphous economic stimulus package, which died in the U.S. Senate following an old-fashioned partisan clash.

While Republicans sought a measure laden with corporate and individual tax breaks, Democrats pushed for spending increases, including more aid to the unemployed. It didn't help the bill's fate that this is an election year.

Fortunately for the Mainland, the U.S. economy is showing signs of recovery, so the plan isn't as critical as it was in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. Some even predict the demise of the bill could reduce next year's deficit from a projected $80 billion to $15 billion.

Unfortunately for Hawai'i, however, an economic turnaround is going to take a lot longer because tourism — our No.1 industry, lest anyone should forget — was roundly whacked. It's here in Hawai'i that we desperately need an economic stimulus package. At least 50,000 Hawai'i residents have filed unemployment claims since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We need business incentives, jobs, extended benefits for the unemployed and other safeguards against poverty.

So it's imperative that our elected officials come up with a plan tailored to the Islands that won't dissolve amid partisan bickering and campaigning. That kind of posturing didn't move Bush's plan through the Democrat-controlled Senate, and it won't here.

Back in Washington, Democrats complained the White House had failed to deliver a concrete proposal and didn't get involved in the debate until the political divide was too wide. Let that be a lesson to Gov. Ben Cayetano and the state Legislature as they work on invigorating our state's anemic economy.

Cayetano has proposed an economic stimulus package that asks for $900 million for state construction projects, including $142 million for the new UH-West O'ahu campus. Lawmakers have balked at spending that much on general construction, but are willing to up their spending on school construction, repairs and maintenance.

It's a good start, but we need something more comprehensive to pull Hawai'i out of the doldrums. We need an economic stimulus package that won't fall victim to politics.