Keep the music playing
Does Honolulu need a municipal marching band? Of course not.
We don't "need" Honolulu City Lights, either. Or municipal golf courses. Or public swimming pools, parks or a zoo.
Nonetheless, they contribute to making Honolulu one of the most vibrant, livable cities in the country. And the Royal Hawaiian Band, formed by King Kamehameha III in 1836, surely ranks high among them as one of Honolulu's historic living legacies worth preserving.
Supporters of the band have been up in arms ever since City Council Budget Committee Chairman Nestor Garcia sugggested it could be on the chopping block to save money.
There is no disputing the need to take a hard look at expenses. The state Legislature could siphon off $20 million of hotel room tax revenues from the city. And raising everyone's property taxes to make up the difference is a bad idea when families are already struggling.
So choices will have to be made. Discretionary spending should be reduced. Nonetheless, it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to eliminate the band's $1.9 million allotment — an amount that represents an 11 percent decrease from the previous year and a small fraction of the city's $1.8 billion budget.
The band averages more than 300 concerts a year, playing everything from classic Hawaiian to show tunes, for free and for a fee. It provides the ineffable pleasure of live music in the open air, a refreshing change from the ubiquitous iPod. For generations of children, it has been a unique lesson in Hawai'i's musical and cultural heritage, wrapped up in the unambiguous fun of a blaring brassy band.
The Royal Hawaiian Band is not a budget priority. But it's definitely a Honolulu quality-of-life priority.