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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lingle sets right focus for session: It's jobs

This state, and the nation as a whole, received more bad news last week on the unemployment front, and that certainly helped to nail down what must be Hawai'i's main concern: putting its citizens back to work.

That became the appropriate almost mandatory focus of Gov. Linda Lingle's State of the State address yesterday, and the governor made a cogent case for her approach to job creation.

Now comes the follow-through. The governor and lawmakers need to quit the all-too-common turf battles and push a unified jobs program forward quickly. Hawai'i needs employment now, and speed will require cooperation from legislative and executive branches that haven't played nicely in the past.

Fortunately, there seems to be good prospects for accord here.

For example, Lingle wants to enact a 10 percent tax credit for hotel construction or renovation projects, almost identical to one proposed by the Legislature's Construction Task Force, whose report was released yesterday.

Other promising incentives:

• A credit of the income taxes withheld for new employees for each new worker hired off the unemployment rolls.

• Reducing the scheduled hike in the unemployment tax, needed to replenish the fund drawn down by joblessness.

• Instituting a job internship program for those on unemployment insurance. This enables workers to enhance their job skills and their chances of getting back to work quickly.

• Expanding the SEE (Supporting Employment Empowerment) Hawai'i Work program subsidizing employer costs in exchange for job training and potential employment.

• Offering investment bonds to help businesses pay the up-front costs of clean-energy enhancements. It could build the market demand underlying the budding clean-energy employment sector that should be part of Hawai'i's preferred future.

It's also encouraging to see Lingle's proposed amendment to the state Constitution to ensure more regular savings during surplus in a "fiscal stabilization fund." That would head off the need for draconian cuts in the event of a future downturn.

Of course, there's room for disagreement over elements of Lingle's blueprint. For example, her plan to restructure the educational system eliminates the school board, which can provide needed guidance on school policy. She later said she would discuss instituting an appointed board of members with professional expertise, but the details are still sketchy.

Overall, however, the governor has laid out some consequential ideas that deserve a full hearing during the 2010 session. But actions speak louder than words. It's time for the Legislature and Lingle, working together, to do everything they can to put Hawai'i back to work.

The governor and lawmakers need to quit the all-too-common turf battles and push a unified jobs program forward.