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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010

Economic turnaround feels close

By David Shapiro

When I worked in Washington, D.C., there would be a day in the late winter or early spring each year when you'd wake up in the morning and the gray skies, biting cold and roadside slush would be gone, replaced by a crisp blue sky, balmy breezes and temperatures in the mid-70s.

The miserable weather had broken and you could feel a sense of renewal from the lift commuters had in their step as they boarded the buses and Metro to go to work.

I'm starting to get the same feeling about the local economy, that it may finally be starting to turn after the deepest recession most of us have experienced in our lifetimes.

Last week was full of good news. Gov. Linda Lingle started it off by announcing state revenues have improved enough that she's at least partly backing off her plan to balance the budget by delaying tax refunds until after July.

Checks for $125 million in refunds claimed on tax returns filed in January and February started going out Friday, with more possibly to come if the next report of the Council on Revenues is optimistic.

It's a morale boost for consumers, who will have the money to spend much earlier than expected an economic kick-start in itself if recipients are confident enough to use the money for purchases they've delayed in the recession.

And as importantly, not pushing the refunds into the next fiscal year spares the next governor from having to start off nearly a quarter-billion dollars in the hole.

"It's good to have some good news to report," Lingle said, and there would be more.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism improved its 2010 outlook for the bellwether tourism industry, projecting that visitor arrivals and spending will both be stronger than expected.

In March, more hotel rooms were full, and the average rate hotels were able to charge increased for the first time in two years.

The number of people employed in Hawai'i has gone up two months in a row. The latest jobs fair at the Blaisdell Center was telling, with 20 percent more employers recruiting workers than a year ago, while the number of attendees needing work was down by 20 percent.

Back in Washington, we'd often have another cold front or two before the warmer weather set in for good, and similarly, nobody is predicting a fast recovery of our economy.

But any reason for optimism has been a long time coming and is most welcome.