Big surplus should go to basic needs
The latest estimate of the state's revenue picture for this year is even rosier than expected — the state is expected to add $50 million more to its anticipated $574 million budget surplus.
But this must not change the basic approach lawmakers should take on using those funds. The bulk of the money should be invested in critical needs, primarily education and public safety.
It is tempting to toss much of the excess into one-time or permanent tax breaks. But this does little for the long-term health of the state and its economy.
Gov. Linda Lingle issued a statement yesterday decrying an effort at the Legislature to do away with a constitutionally required tax rebate. She is correct, at least in theory. If the state collects more money than it needs, the extra should be given back to the taxpayers.
But can anyone seriously argue that the state has all the money it needs — that everything is covered? Hardly.
The most obvious example, of course, is our schools. Beginning with textbooks, the state of dilapidated classrooms, the need for extra resources for children with special needs and gifted and talented students — the need is great.
Putting money into schools would indeed amount to an investment in Hawai'i's future. That investment would ideally yield a worthwhile return in the form of a better, more educated workforce and a more stable society.
Another urgent need is fixing up our disaster-response infrastructure. The lesson of the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast is that inadequate preparation today adds up to huge expenses tomorrow, when the inevitable disaster hits.
That includes building, equipping and strengthening emergency shelters. We are an island state, and folks simply cannot run away from danger.
It would be so easy to simply fritter this surplus away, with a short-term view. Let's not let that happen.