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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Governor hopefuls tackle budget-crunch future

 •  Candidates for the Hawai'i primary election
 •  Advertiser special: The Vanishing Voter

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

State Rep. Ed Case handed out pocket calculators to his opponents in the race for governor at a forum yesterday to try to focus public attention on the state's budget problems.

At the first political forum attended by the three leading Democratic candidates for governor, Case, D-23rd (Manoa), told an audience at the annual Tax Foundation of Hawai'i luncheon that the state is running out of money, and called that the biggest issue of the campaign.

Fellow Democrat D.G. "Andy" Anderson, describing the state as "bankrupt," said that problem prompted him to re-enter politics. He said the state must "right-size" government, which is too big for the tax base that supports it.

State Rep. Ed Case said the state can no longer raid special funds.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said the solution to the state's budget problem is to grow the economy.

D.G. "Andy" Anderson said the state is "bankrupt."

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Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said the solution to the state's budget problem is to grow the economy so that tax collections increase.

Republican front-runner Linda Lingle did not attend the forum at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, citing a previous engagement.

Case said that even if state tax collections grow by 5 percent a year and no extra money is needed for public worker raises or increases in costs in areas such as special education, the state is still on a course to run out of cash.

"You want to reduce taxes? Do you want to ... give this (tax) credit to this company?" Case asked his opponents. "Bring the calculator, buddy, bring the calculator. Figure out how it fits."

Case contends the state can no longer raid special funds, and he rejected the option of tax increases —which, he said, means the state must curb spending. "That is the hard choice, that's the unavoidable choice. Are you going to rip up the credit cards, or not?"

Anderson promised to be careful in how he changes the size of state government.

"We've got to do all of the things a businessman does when he takes over a business, but you don't do it overnight," said Anderson, a restaurant owner and former city managing director.

"For 16 years we have allowed that budget to grow and grow and grow and become bloated. We have put thousands upon thousands of employees on the payroll. You don't fire them in 30 days ... You can't."

Even if government employees are laid off, Anderson said, they will continue to cost government money in unemployment claims and perhaps even welfare payments. Instead, he suggested the state design an early retirement program to shed unnecessary public workers.

Hirono described her accomplishments as a lawmaker and lieutenant governor, and called for a program audit of the Department of Education. Hirono said she hopes that audit "can lead us to a way we can make some decisions" on how to best direct money for education.

Republican John Carroll criticized Lingle for missing the forum.

Carroll said the state is overtaxed, and the size of government must be reduced. He proposed abolishing the state Board of Education, and "emasculating" the Department of Education bureaucracy.

Carroll also said he wants to scrap the corporate income tax and abandon the state general excise tax in favor of a sales tax.

Hirono also raised the issue of criminal convictions of a string of state Democrats, such as former City Council members Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani, and former state Sen. Marshall Ige, cases that could reflect badly on other Democrats.

"I share your sense of outrage, anger, betrayal, and at bottom for me a sense of tremendous sadness," Hirono said of the criminal cases involving elected officials. But she vowed to "stay in the arena" because "people with the highest ethics and integrity must be the ones who are there, creating our partnership with our business community, with the university to make things happen, to make progress, positive changes."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.