What the people want
The 2006 Hawai'i Legislature will open Jan. 18 facing huge problems as well as the presence of a huge state tax surplus.
The Advertiser recently asked current and former members of our community editorial board for their thoughts on what the Legislature should focus on this election year. (Watch for more comments from board members over the coming days).
HELP THOSE WITHOUT
As the Legislature gets ready for the 2006 session there is for the first time in a long time some extra money. As legislators ponder how to divide up the treasury my plea to them is don't forget ...
The uninsured ... At last count Hawai'i had approximately 120,000 individuals who were uninsured for medical care. This is a shameful situation for a state that boasts one of the most progressive systems of healthcare with the Prepaid Health Care Act.
To allow 10 percent of our population to go without health insurance is a scandal especially when it is estimated that half of them are gainfully employed in one or more part time jobs.
Affordable housing ... The middle class has found itself priced out of the housing market. While there is much discussion about what is affordable and who is included in the group not much is being said about those who don't even qualify for "affordable" housing.
State and county governments have found it convenient to talk to developers about providing "affordable units" with each new development. But there are many in the community who rely on government-sponsored housing. Government must always be the provider of last resort.
The homeless ... Homelessness is a tragedy of the last quarter of the 20th century. The acceptance of a permanent underclass is not an option for a state that prides itself in finding a place for everyone regardless of a person's station in life.
Don't even think of a tax refund. There are too many poor people living under the safety net who need much but have little.
The Rev. Frank A. Chong is a Honolulu social worker.
I am in Zhongshan. This southern region is the most highly developed manufacturing center in China. Prosperity bursts at the seams. Rows of apartments are being built. Miles of huge factories line the freeways to the provincial capital of Guandong.
This prosperity carries a price of heavy, smelly air and cement-gray streams. The air and land are not managed well here. Nature suffers.
Because of the contrast, I can understand that Hawai'i's prosperity depends on the beauty and management of the 'aina. Hawai'i remains endowed with relatively clean air and sparkling waters for now.
Waimea Valley is one of the last two remaining ahupua'a on O'ahu, connecting the sea to the mountain. This valley can be a symbol of quality management of the 'aina in Hawai'i.
The 2006 Hawai'i Legislature can renew its vow to honor this heritage and incalculable resource by supporting the purchase of this pristine and symbolic home of Hawai'i.
This an opportunity in history to do what is pono and wise.
1. Allocate a percentage of the New Legacy Land Act to finance ongoing operations under The Audubon Society.
2. Use part of the state's surplus to help pay for the acquisition of the valley.
3. Encourage OHA to acquire the valley and to finance cultural and archaeological activities.
U'a mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. These words are on the Hawaiian royal crown and at the Legislature's mauka entrance.
Mitsue Cook is a business consultant, educator and writer.
How in the world is this possible? This was my first reaction to the news of Hawai'i's 2005 budget surplus.
Given that public schools ranked last in the nation, the state of our pothole-afflicted roads, a non-existent curbside recycling system, and our unsophisticated, primordial bus system, how hard can it be to find incentives to put this money towards public welfare?
The single most important thing I believe the Legislature should accomplish for Hawai'i's people is to attain healthy, long-term, economic growth, primarily through an adjustment in public school funding arrangements.
Economic growth, increased work and investment will be advanced by happily productive citizens with confidence in their children's schools, smooth roads, and quick, clean, efficient transportation and recycling systems, more so than by slipping a few bucks back into taxpayers' pockets.
The government is fully capable of, yet far from, addressing each of these necessities. It should give priority in the spending of the surplus to policies and services not yet addressed by private programs. It should allocate its resources toward spending in education (teachers' salaries, etc.) and infrastructure.
This is a more socio-economically viable alternative than some minimal tax relief.
Hawai'i's future well-being may not withstand the folly of unwisely throwing away this opportunity to jump-start improvements in public education, transportation, infrastructure, etc.
Granted, this is easy to say, yet, exactly how will the funds be distributed most efficiently, and more importantly how will these policies be maintained?
On second thought, maybe it is easier to just give everyone their dollar back. ...
Janette McGrain is a student at the University of Hawai'i.navigate wisely
I teach social studies at La Pietra, Hawai'i School for Girls, and I speak for the students who just took my "Economics Through the Lens of Hawaiian History" course.
These young and intelligent women want me to write that they are very, very concerned about Hawai'i's rising population (currently about 9 percent per year), our overcrowded and congested living spaces, and our dwindling natural resources, especially water.
They fear, more or less, that we are rushing into decisions that should come only after much more deliberation and public input (for example, the proposed condominium pods that are part of A&B's and HCDA's Kaka'ako Waterfront plan), and not moving fast enough when it comes to addressing quality of life issues like transportation, open space preservation and professional development of our work force (especially for women).
To our 2006 state Legislature, my La Pietra students would like to say: Please, using substantial and substantive public input, develop a long-term vision for an economically and socially diverse Hawai'i that helps our state become a model for sustainability. Sustainability is defined as the development of societies in such a way as to not harm future generations.
The logic of sustainability makes sense to my students, and they want our policymakers to follow its precepts. They want their representatives to look far over the horizon (much in the way Hokule'a navigators "look" over the horizon when they are sailing to far off islands) and envision a Hawai'i where they can raise their kids.
They want their representatives to act like navigators. Please, they say, sail our voyaging canoe with a clear purpose and a vision for the future.
Josh Reppun is a high school teacher.
FIX THE HARBORS
This year the Legislature should begin a long-term financing plan for the development of Kapalama Military Reservation into the next major ocean cargo container terminal at Ho-nolulu Harbor, a pivotal centerpiece of harbor improvement that is long overdue.
Hawai'i's economy continues to grow at a brisk pace.
All islands are seeing growth and development in commercial properties, residential construction, and large scale federal projects. Our tourism industries located in Waikiki, Po'ipu Beach resorts, Kona coast hotels, and Lahaina to Kihei on Maui, all rely on the smooth flow of goods through Honolulu Harbor.
It cannot be overstated that cargo operations have already attained maximum utilization of existing space.
Politically, paying for this project is a bipartisan issue that impacts all of Hawai'i's people. Goods flow to outer-island ports through Honolulu Harbor, so Neighbor Island representatives should be even more vocal.
Taxpayers are well aware of the typically prolonged project timelines, involving endless months of planning, design, approvals and permitting, followed by years of construction.
Maritime capital improvement projects involving dredging demand exhaustive pollution control measures that further extend the time and costs of construction. This is not a glamorous project that will be easy to "sell" to either politicians or taxpayers. But we need to ensure that our harbors are being improved, just as readily as our highways and airports.
Honolulu Harbor has suffered from political neglect for years. Delaying the Kapalama development today will guarantee a negative impact on our economy tomorrow.
Edward Enos of Kailua is a Honolulu harbor pilot.
INVOLVE THE PEOPLE
If I were to select one thing for the Legislature to focus on in 2006, it would be to create a framework where more folks become part of the decision-making process.
Frequently, I hear a great deal of wisdom from citizens with potential to seek alternatives to seemingly "complex" matters.
We need a more open process that begins to tap the aspirations and common sense of each of us. We need to move away from the notion that only the "experts," only the "centers of influence," only the people who have "wealth and assets" and only the "professionals and the agencies" are capable of creating alternatives.
In a management context, decisions need to be made at the lowest level possible. In a community context, the people need to have the freedom to tap each other's collective creativity and evolve new ways of becoming more interdependent.
A couple of examples.
1) Since 1989 Porto Alegre, Brazil, a city with a larger population than the state of Hawai'i, has had its city budget formulated by citizens (850 at last report) representing every aspect of the city geographically, economically and infrastructurally.
Porto Alegre was in deep financial difficulties in 1989, but now its experiences and approach are being replicated in more than 70 other cities in South America.
2) Willets, Calif., citizens have established the Willets Economic Localization Project whose goal "is to discover creative methods to sustain and empower the local community while moving away from global, imported resources in essence to localize our economy." (See www.willetseconomiclocalization.org.)
Peter Bower is a former YMCA executive and business consultant.
SUPPORT OUR WORKERS
Over the past few years, the Legislature has directed an increased amount of money to early learning, K-12 and higher education.
Most would agree that even the increased amounts are still not enough, but at least the support for learning at all ages is appreciated. A significant population, though, remains educationally under-served. This is the population of adult learners who need education for entry-level workplace skills.
Thousands of Hawai'i's residents do not follow the traditional path to participation in a highly-skilled work force. Any of several reasons limit such participation:
Thanks to the availability of federal money, many of these individuals can enroll for free in the DOE's Community Schools for Adults to improve basic reading, writing and math skills.
But improvement in these basic skills, while necessary for success in the workplace, is not sufficient. Additional education is needed to be "workplace ready." In fact, the expectations which employers have for new employees increasingly are identical to the expectations which college admissions officers have for incoming freshmen.
So additional classes, whether at community colleges or elsewhere, are needed.
The challenge to many of these adults is one of time. If they are raising a family while working, they may feel unable to take more than one class at a time. Yet most financial aid applies only to students who are enrolled at least half-time (two classes per semester). The Legislature could address this problem by setting aside some of the budget surplus as scholarships for adults who successfully complete the GED or competency-based diploma and who want to go on to take just one college class per semester for two semesters. By the time they have completed two college classes, these students will find ways to support further education.
For an investment of just a few thousand dollars now, the Legislature could potentially see returns in the form of lowered unemployment, lowered enrollment in public assistance, and greater civic engagement.
Kathy Jaycox is an educator and consultant.
FIX THE BURDEN
1. Remove the present excise tax and replace with simple sales tax of 3 percent only at retail.
2. Reduce the state income tax by 50 percent across the board. Past and current federal experience proves that reducing taxes raises gross tax revenue income and reduces unemployment.
3. Put a term limit on members of the state Legislature, both House and Senate. Maximum four years for House, six years for Senate. Then watch the indictments go down in number and action go up in amount and value.
4. Demand a minimum of 10 percent reduction in government employment, across the board in all departments. Everyone knows there is a surplus of government employees but nobody has the guts to fix the problem.
5. When these actions are taken, arrange similar follow-ups in each category for three years later.
If this is done, the results will be spectacularly amazing and beneficial. Make a mention in my obituary.
Cliff Coleman is a retired business executive.
NO REBATE WANTED
Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono. The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.
Our state motto visions the Native Hawaiian social structure in the ahupua'a in which the people share tasks and help each other to advance the health and nurturing of their community.
Our leaders in the Legislature and administration can move our state toward the vision of the ahupua'a by trusting that the people are righteous they truly care for each other.
People in Hawai'i sustain the life of the land by their generous giving through nonprofits to those disadvantaged in health and education. Educators, in public and private schools, suffer inadequate compensation.
Firefighters and police officers risk their lives to protect the lives of others.
Our leaders should not fear the people's disapproval if the budget surplus is used to improve life for all in the ahupua'a. The needs are many.
Too many of our people lack and cannot afford acceptable shelter. The drug epidemic robs people of productive life. Our children are deprived of a nurturing learning environment because of the fragility of school facilities and inadequacy of program resources.
Too many state parks, habitats for healthy living, are neglected and therefore avoided. The Hawai'i Community Development Authority could use more financial resources to implement a financially feasible Kaka'ako Makai plan which realizes the decades-long vision prior to the plan amendment in early 2005 to include a residential component of creating a vibrant gathering place connected to the sea for all of O'ahu's people.
Our leaders should not rebate the budget surplus. They will gain the people's respect for investing the budget surplus to improve life for all of us in the state ahupua'a.
My New Year's pule is for the bulk of the surplus to be invested in public school infrastructure and programs.
Ivan Lui-Kwan is a Honolulu attorney and accountant.
WE NEED HOUSING
The 2006 Legislature faces difficult choices between many pressing needs. School repairs, waste treatment plant upgrades and transportation infrastructure improvements all deserve overdue funding.
But the most important problem for this year's session to address is affordable housing.
The affordable housing crisis dwarfs other issues because the lack of affordable housing in the broadest sense of that phrase now threatens the fabric of our community. Hawai'i's chronic homelessness, shortage of rental housing, and skyrocketing costs of home ownership are coalescing into a perfect storm.
The homeless have moved into our parks and beaches. The working poor must take two and three jobs to pay their rent. College grads reluctantly leave for the Mainland.
The soaring value of real property imposes exorbitant taxes on those with fixed incomes. It is no overstatement to say our quality of life is at risk.
As daunting as problems created by the affordable housing crisis are, solutions do exist. More community-based mental health and drug treatment programs will help reduce homelessness. A revolving fund for low-cost construction loans to private developers can increase the number of affordable rentals.
State refunds would take the sting out of high property taxes.
Providing sufficient affordable housing will not be easy or inexpensive. But to preserve the social contract between government and its citizens the Legislature must do so. Everyone needs a roof over their head.
Lundsford Phillips is a Honolulu attorney.
The most important issue before the 2006 Legislature is housing. To be effective in our community, young people need to set roots. They need to have their own home, rented or owned.
Older folks need to know they are safe and secure in a place they can afford, and the homeless need to be brought in and off the streets.
These three categories are often Hawai'i's three housing have-nots.
As always, the state budget will be limited in spite of the expanding surplus. From experience we know that half the budget will go to pay for schools and universities which produce some of these needy housing have-nots.
This Legislature must find a solution that can be implemented now. One proven option is for the state to seek professional guidance and some money from the private sector. State tax incentives may be the quid pro quo.
For example, the excellent public/private partnership between the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and the tourism industry's stakeholders has made Hawai'i the destination of choice in all of Hawai'i's core markets.
I believe, as most do, that '06, '07 and '08 are going to be huge growth years in Hawai'i, particularly in tourism. This growth will expand the resident population, creating even greater housing needs and even more housing have-nots.
Experience teaches us that growth in segments of the economy like agriculture, construction and the military produce many housing have-nots.
The state is on a roll with "long-term lease" housing opportunities for the longtime waiting Hawaiian population.
Where to build new housing is also a major issue. East O'ahu is out because of record setting prices and the area is saturated to the tipping point. Central O'ahu is the logical choice. However, traffic is a big issue.
The needs of the homeless must be solved in a manner that meets their needs but does not attract homeless folks from other states.
The communities that will accommodate this growth must be heard.
Bob Hampton is owner of a Waikiki beach services firm.
HELP THE POOR, HOMELESS
Of all the subjects we discussed during our time with the community editorial board, one thing not touched on much was homelessness and poverty.
After Hurricane Katrina much of the country was aghast at the level of poverty in New Orleans and the rest of the country. Here in Hawai'i we are not immune from this plight.
In September 2004 the state released a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. Homelessness affects all areas of our life aside from the obvious visual displeasure to the upper-class.
It affects education because children in homeless families move in and out of districts, those kids fall through the gaps, they do not get a good education and their poverty is perpetuated.
It affects mass transit because in order to help people become productive they have to be able to get to and from work.
If affects housing because those on lower income are more in need of housing than the wealthy (Kaka'ako).
It affects the economy in many ways crime, drug use, prostitution, gambling, etc desperate acts by desperate folks.
We are weaving the fabric of our reality and so must work toward a more stable and compassionate community. All citizens should be more knowledgeable about homelessness and thus develop the political will to support positive change. This next Legislature should address the homeless issue especially as it relates to poverty or low income.
Zaff Bobilin is a home-school mother and part-time makeup artist.
Education likely tops most lists of issues the 2006 Legislature needs to tackle.
But rather than debating which schools get what slice of the pie, our political leaders should recognize that students are the priority.
Lawmakers need to abandon business-as-usual tactics that result in an outdated education system that protects and rewards bureaucrats, provides lucrative contracts to insiders, and does little to inspire the quality teachers to remain in the classroom.
Our students under the current system are not the priority. We need to focus on creating the next generation of global business leaders and entrepreneurs.
The U.S. is the world leader in creative high-tech engineering and computer software development. China, India and other emerging Pacific Rim nations will be the markets of the future.
Our students are in a unique position to take advantage of what Hawai'i has: a central location, diversity, strong ties to Asia, and technology companies with long-term contracts to strengthen our defense and provide high-skilled employment.
To provide the skills our children need to compete in a global economy, our schools should:
Such a change will require the efforts of the administration and state Legislature, our congressional delegation, educators, and union and civic leaders.
And, yes, it will take money. We should tap into federal programs and funding sources.
Hawai'i is fortunate to have a disproportionate share of political power through the seniority of Sens. Daniel Inouye and Dan Akaka. Through their influence, Hawai'i's technology companies have received substantial defense contracts.
These companies need the human capital that Hawai'i can produce. Our delegates could steer federal dollars here to establish Hawai'i as the base for the emerging global economy centered in the Pacific Rim.
If we do nothing, others will grab that position and their success will lead them to vacation in Hawai'i.
Hawai'i has a window of opportunity that we need to take advantage of now. The future of Hawai'i is at stake.
David Ushio is president of Pacific Technologies, a company heading the development of the Mobile Modular Communications Command (M2C2).
HOMELESSNESS NO. 1
Our No. 1 problem is homeless people in our state.
Legislators should set aside funding for building a Center for Homeless Citizens, initially consisting of dormitory-like living quarters with cafeteria facility plus a job training center.
Any able-bodied homeless citizen, free of communicable disease and criminal record shall qualify for admission.
They could first be offered job opportunities in the center, with adequate assessment of job skill level. If they qualify, they should be offered job opportunities in the public sector, such as park and roadway maintenance and eventually see job offers extended to the private sector.
The facility shall be funded by the state, county, city, food stamps, Medicaid and private charitable organizations.
The goal is to promote the well-being of the homeless person, leading to the stage where they are able to support their own lives and become a contributing citizen of our community.
B.S.Chen is a retired executive of a medical services firm.