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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Streamlining construction can speed jobs

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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At all levels of government, job creation is Job One.

It's no different here. State lawmakers, in an effort to stem the recessionary tide of unemployment and stoke economic recovery, are on the lookout for ideas that will work, and quickly.

While legislators crunch the numbers on suggested business incentives, a construction industry task force has come up with some proposals that so clearly make sense they should be enacted without delay.

These ideas are based on the intuitive notion that the quicker a project is freed from extended bureaucratic timelines, the faster contractors can put people to work. Among the recommendations:

• Shorten the public notification period for bidding on "simple projects" — a term not yet defined — to 15 days at most.

• Require all state departments to award contracts on bids within 30 days.

• Limit to 60 days the period state agencies have for final contract certification with the Department of Accounting and General Services.

• Exempt state airports and highways division projects from county requirements for special management area permits.

The thinking behind this last idea is that the SMA process —which is meant primarily to protect shoreline environments — duplicates the stricter federal environmental reviews for most transportation projects, which usually tap federal funds.

The state harbors division already secured this exemption to speed critically needed improvements to Hawai'i's outdated harbor facilities, and it makes sense to extend it to airports and highways, which have less of a direct impact on shorelines.

Task force members who drew up these proposals told lawmakers last week that the Lingle administration already has tested shortened deadlines for many state projects. But a new law also would help to speed up projects for the state Department of Education and the University of Hawai'i, which don't fall under the governor's authority.

Warren Haruki, who heads the Kaua'i development and agricultural firm Grove Farm Co. Inc., chaired the task force. He said many of the group's proposals should be seen as common-sense solutions that government could adopt without the force of law, especially during an economic downturn when unemployment weighs down recovery.

He couldn't be more right about that.

But frequently common sense is not so common in the state's labyrinthine bureaucracy. If government needs a legal nudge to rev up its engine, lawmakers should give it that push. These reforms should pass soon, so Hawai'i can get back to work.