By Lowell L. Kalapa
You can tell when the campaign season has been kicked off when we begin to hear a litany of what our elected officials have done for us as taxpayers. And certainly the public relations button has been pushed on the fifth floor of the state capitol building as efforts are geared up for the election next year.
While there is nothing wrong with touting one’s accomplishments, those accomplishments shouldn’t mask the problems that continue to plague the community. For example, national statistics are being cited to show Hawaii falling from 17th or 18th highest in number of public employees per 10,000 population three or four years ago to 22nd for the year 1994. This, claim state officials, indicates that efforts have been successful in curtaining the size of government.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. First, note well that the federal statistics being quoted are for the fiscal year 1994, a year when it is acknowledged that government continued to grow, a whole year before it was “discovered” that Hawaii was facing a fiscal crisis. Second, seemingly because of budget cutbacks some state offices have not been filling out the federal survey form that gathers these statistics. As a result, the data being reported does not indicate increases or decreases in the public workforce since that time. Thus, the data is less than credible.
Similarly, when questioned by the media about the outlook for the state economy, the two private sector observers did not indicate much hope for a quick turnaround whereas the administration official seemed to be more optimistic about the outlook. While there is nothing wrong with being optimistic, there is also something to be said about acknowledging reality and dealing with it. If elected officials continue to hold their breath in hopes that the economy is making a turnaround on its own, we may be in for even deeper trouble.
More importantly, while officials continue to expound on their handiwork in downsizing government while approving a state budget that indicates that the number of positions will actually grow over this fiscal year by more than 800 positions, what we are hearing is not what we are getting. The situation is almost as serious as the story about the emperor and his new clothes. In this case if officials believe they have downsized government while still adding new positions, a reality check is certainly in order.
Another case in point is the recent criticism of the hotel industry’s hiking of room rates which was viewed by the state administration as counterproductive to the state efforts to attract more visitors to the islands. It is unfortunate that non-business politicians believe that they know how and when industry should or should not undertake actions, but then again, it seems that is consistent with the way government views business in Hawaii. No business would do something that would jeopardize its profitability or the prospects of attracting more customers. Obviously the hotel industry is quite cognizant of the fact that they made a mistake a few years ago when they deeply discounted room rates that created customer expectations that room rates were always going to be that low.
As a result, hotels have had a difficult time of making ends meet as they try to bring their revenue picture in line with that of expenditures. To assume that hotels should keep their rates low because the state is spending money on visitor promotion is a reaffirmation of the fact that government doesn’t know very much about running a business.
We will hear a lot more rhetoric in the coming months as the campaign trail is taken, some of the points to be made may be valid, others may just have the “right spin” for your consumption. The point of the matter is that as consumers of this information, we need to question the rhetoric to make sure the facts are correct and that we hear the other side of the story. Once you believe you have the full story, then make up your mind.