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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 25, 2005

A dose of reality at City Hall

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Of course, action speaks louder than State of the City addresses, but it was quite a relief to hear the voice of reason come out of new Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

He won the election, but he's still talking potholes and sewers. Thank goodness, because there are a lot of pukas in both the roads and the pipes after the reign of Jeremy Harris, the Merrie Mayor.

Now how do we get state lawmakers to focus on their unglamorous but essential Need to Have kuleana and stop throwing money at Nice to Haves?

Every year, when the Legislature opens, it's like the first day of catfish season at the Nu'uanu reservoir. The developers of various non-essential projects line the shore hoping to hook a chubby tax credit or snag one of them granddaddy budgetary lump sums. They chum the water with promises of jobs for local people, international exposure of Hawai'i as a tourist destination and economic diversification for the state, but really, it's all rubber worms and shiny feathers.

Practicality is all but abandoned in the frenzy. Government money gets hauled out, gasping and flapping, into the hands of well-heeled investors who have the kind of money it takes to own part of a movie or an aquarium park or a racetrack. These are people who can afford to eat fancy fish at Alan Wong's every day of the week.

Meanwhile, the sort of folks who really need that muddy fish to feed their kids get left with the limu.

As one woman who called the newsroom put it:

"These guys, they take us for fools. In the right hand, they hold out small jobs and big promises for the local people, but they stick their left hand out to take it all back in taxpayer money."

And all the while, they look straight into the cameras and tell us we NEED to have whatever they're up to.

The latest version of this one is that we NEED a racetrack, or else folks will race illegally on the freeways (which is especially dangerous with all the potholes on state roads).

No, what we need are tougher laws (and the means to enforce them) to keep idiots who race on public roadways from killing innocent people.

Potholes and sewers.

Schools and public safety.

Traffic and prisons.

These basics haven't been fixed yet. Take care of that stuff first before handing out tax breaks and big checks to private businesses.

And speaking of, if a particular business gets a big leg up from the state, shouldn't the state then become an investor entitled to a portion of the profit? Wouldn't that be reasonable? If you catch plenty fish, throw some back. Restock the pond.

Perhaps Hannemann's mantra will be repeated loudly enough, often enough and with enough sincerity to float over to the Capitol:

"Do we need it? Can we afford it?"

Lee Cataluna's columns run Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.