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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping ourselves through hard times


By Lee Cataluna

Some of the best-loved books are about clever, strong-willed or plain tenacious people surviving bleak times. Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes," Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance," Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" it's a long list.

We don't, however, want to live those stories.

And so we find ourselves at the start of another legislative session where lawmakers will be pulled in a hundred different directions by people who don't want to see their favorite program cut.

Give Gov. Linda Lingle credit for having the ability to say no. Legislators are going to have a hard time cutting programs and budgets during an election year. They don't want to offend.

Conversely, they're going to have a hard time raising taxes and fees. Most of us are struggling against the recession ourselves.

When money is tight at home, families do three things: Try to bring in more money, cut back on spending and start doing a lot of things themselves.

The Legislature needs to try to bring in more money, and now would be a good time to get tech companies and film crews to start paying taxes like everyone else who does business in Hawai'i. Lawmakers will have to swallow hard and cut back spending despite tearful testimony and pressure from groups wearing sloganed T-shirts.

The do-it-yourself part falls to us, the community. We've gotten accustomed to having government do things for us.

Like the recent rat population boom, not only in Chinatown but all over the island. The state Department of Health vector control office was dismantled this month, jobs eliminated, the few inspectors left were transferred to another department. But what's wrong with taking responsibility for your own rat problem? It doesn't require special skills to call an exterminator or make a trip to City Mill for traps.

Maybe some state parks should be closed for a while, or placed under the care of volunteer stewards. Maybe retirees can staff libraries on days when they would otherwise be closed. Maybe people can start paying for their services instead of giving more money to the government so the state can pay their bill.

There is agreement that the economy will at some point be robust again, but no one knows when that will be. We think the misery is temporary. But during this time, instead of hoping the Legislature fixes everything and knowing deep down they won't, maybe the message to lawmakers can be: We'll get through this by working harder and working smarter. You guys take care of your kuleana, and we'll take care of ours.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172.