Gov. Linda Lingle had an opportunity in her State of the State speech to step up and be a true leader in tough times, but instead she ducked, deflected and left her usual light footprint.
By the governor's own words, the state faces an unprecedented budget deficit that will force reduced pay and benefit cuts for public workers and slashing of state services.
She said we can't afford to "muddle through" the next two years and must confront tough decisions instead of "kicking the can down the road."
Then, incredibly, Lingle gave the can a good boot and changed the subject to a medley of her golden oldies without offering a single specific proposal for balancing the budget.
Our communities are on edge about an economy that keeps sinking with no bottom in sight and looked to the governor for leadership, but she had none to offer.
Democratic legislators, who have pretty much ignored the Republican Lingle for the last six years, were actually interested in her guidance this year, but she had little to give.
Instead, she patted herself on the back for advances in Hawaiian Homes and child social services, and repeated proposals on energy, traffic and recreation that have little bearing on the budget crisis that will dominate this Legislature.
It's extraordinary for a governor to give a State of the State that has no specific new ideas in the headline.
Last year, for instance, Lingle proposed that the state buy the Turtle Bay resort to keep the North Shore country, and the year before she introduced her initiative to shift our economy from land development to innovation.
Seldom does a State of the State go by with no concrete talk about taxes and spending — except this year, when these issues must be the overriding concern of the Legislature.
It's part of a governor's job to be a cheerleader and reassure the citizenry about the future, but Lingle's timid performance offered little reassurance. Instead, it raised fears that she has no answers to the economic slide and we could be in for an even rougher ride than we feared.
In the end, Lingle's speech was a continuation of the game of kick-the-can she's been playing with the Legislature in which neither side wants to bear the blame of being the first to suggest unpopular tax increases and service reductions.
Lingle acknowledged the fear when she said in her speech, "The pain that will be felt by individuals and organizations both in and out of government will cause some to search for a specific reason or person to blame. This downturn was not caused by any of us."
But as Randy Perreira of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association put it in an interview with The Advertiser before Lingle's speech, she and the Legislature asked for the responsibility when they ran for office "and they're going to have to take the bullets that come with it."
We don't have the luxury to keep putting off discussion of specifics. We face the largest deficit since statehood, and the numbers are almost certain to get worse before the Legislature adjourns.
Lingle and legislative leaders keep talking about leaving everything on the table, but the few specifics put on the table so far — even if you include dubious ideas such as legalizing gambling and raiding the O'ahu transit tax — aren't nearly enough to cover the budget shortfall.
A 90-day legislative session is not a lot of time to decide issues of such magnitude, and lawmakers can't wait much longer for Lingle to get in the game.
David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. His columns are archived at www.volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog, Volcanic Ash, at volcanicash.honadvblogs.com.