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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jobs bill an anti-business mess that should stay vetoed

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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The mission when government seeks to get construction work done is to find a qualified company for the job at the best possible price. All kinds of complications can creep into the process, and this state does not have the best reputation for getting contracts issued promptly.

Now imagine that bidders will have to meet one more requirement: ensuring that at least 80 percent of its workers are Hawai'i residents.

That's what Senate Bill 2840 would require, and Gov. Linda Lingle was right to veto it. It's an illogical, impractical anti-business measure designed only to give legislators an easy-to-remember jingle during election season: Local jobs for local people.

Except for a commercial aired last summer by the painters' union griping about Mainland workers hired to repair Aloha Stadium, no hard evidence has been presented to show that this is actually a problem.

Most construction jobs are already filled by Hawai'i residents. The cost and hassle of moving workers here from the Mainland is generally seen as something to avoid.

The problem faced by the construction industry is not the lack of workers but the lack of work. Until the lending markets loosen up, projects and jobs will be hard to come by. This bill will do nothing to resolve that basic problem.

What it will do is set rules that are still unclear, making enforcement difficult. In her veto message, Lingle highlights some of these snags:

• Contractors will be responsible for the makeup not only of their own workforce, but that of major subcontractors. That's totally impractical.

• Is the contractor liable to calculate the "local" ratio on a monthly basis? Weekly? With jobs shifting to new phases and requiring imported expertise at times, this record-keeping requirement will be one more onerous burden to heap onto Hawai'i's well-established reputation as an anti-business state.

• The definition of a resident is murky. This and other ambiguities may open the state to challenges from competing contractors, as if we need more contract delays to bog down business here.

• Whether or not the bill violates the U.S. Constitution is open to debate which surely will happen in the courts, and at state expense.

It's stunning to see the overwhelming vote in support of this deeply flawed bill which, on the House floor, was unanimous and bipartisan. The Senate's two holdouts are its Republicans, but the tally suggests there will be enough votes for an override of Lingle's veto.

They shouldn't do it.