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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 26, 2009

Death of 221 will weigh heavily on Lingle's legacy


By Jay Fidell

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Nobody expected Gov. Linda Lingle to veto Senate Bill 199. She had been working against Act 221 for seven years, so why should she take a risk on preserving it now? That's why they were all surprised when she said she would put it on her veto list, and invited 18 members of the industry to meet with her and bare their souls.

They were so excited they couldn't see straight. They wanted to be heroes and save the industry. They prepared and strategized and went to that three-hour meeting and presented as never before. They believed she might really veto.

Going in, Shan Steinmark of the Hawaii Science & Technology Council said, "my naive side is willing to walk into the trap, my curious side cannot resist the impulse to see what will really happen and my really stupid side actually thinks I might be able to do something that will make a difference."

Actually, no one could make a difference the decision was already made. Her subsequent no-veto letter was nondescript and validated the skeptics she had never meant to save 221. So why the added cruelty of giving them false hope?

It was like a legislative hearing, but longer. She also invited her favorite anti-221 advocates, as if she wanted to hold court on the whole debate again. She quietly asked questions, dutifully listened, then went ahead and bashed 221.

In the process, she also gave the anti-221 forces in the Legislature, namely Isaac Choy, Kyle Yamashita and Pono Chong, what they wanted. There may be no justice, but surely there is the political memory that will deride Choy's defensive, disingenuous piece in The Advertiser on Monday. He should not be in the Legislature.

It's nice to say the state should "replace" 221, but think again. A resurrection of 221 will carry old baggage. A new tech incentive will be suspect as untried. Any "replacement" will be worked over as it goes through the sausage machine. Lingle and the anti-techs will still be there, gloves off after the 2009 train wreck.

WHAT COMMITMENT?

A recent Advertiser editorial said we should continue to grow our tech sector, suggesting that the state has committed to doing that. If the state did make such a commitment, it must have been in an earlier time. In any event, you can't implement that commitment without capital, and that's the problem.

While the anti-tech forces were busy dismembering 221, they weren't proposing other programs to grow the sector. Now, with 221's demise, there are no other programs that would effectively replace it. Let's not fool each other. Who knows what it'll take to get another incentive package enacted and working.

At this point, it's trial and error without guarantees. Don't hold your breath.

Act 221 was brilliant and visionary, and it made the capital show up. The train wreck fractured not only the act but the industry. The search for a new approach is likely to compound the fracture. We have miles to go before we'll understand the enormity of what's happened. In the meantime, we'll be losing investors, jobs, confidence and footing in an escalating global competition.

SEVERE SETBACK

In the shadow of SB 199, investors will see us as unreliable and dangerous and our kids will continue to leave town. Local investors will refocus on investing and getting their tax breaks in real estate. If we look to the heavens, we'll see all those jetliners winging their way to Asia, high above our island backwater.

It's a severe setback, but maybe it will give us greater strength to deal with public officials who don't know or care. Maybe it will give us greater harmony to reach agreement and get together on critical issues. Maybe it will teach us to look beyond our self-interest and find the greater good, even run for office.

Et tu, Governor? This will be your legacy. You could have saved 221, but you killed it instead. You've broken your promise again and made our dreams into tribulations. You've taught us not to rely on government, but rather to invent solutions outside of government. That's the lesson of your administration.

It's not one mistake, but years of mistakes. It's an administration that's turned its back on diversification. It's not as if we just made a wrong turn somewhere we, under your opacity, have been making lots of wrong turns, and now here we are in an economic wilderness, unprepared. Whose fault is that?