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Do We Need An Economic Summit?

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

The latest hype coming out of an administration gearing up for a re-election campaign is the call for an economic summit to discuss strategies on how to right the economic ship of state.

While protocol dictates that most who were interviewed for a reaction gave kudos and praise, it seems that once again it is a “one-ups-manship” game between the [Hawaii state] legislature and the [Cayetano] administration. It seems that legislative leaders had been discussing such a summit soon after the session ended when they felt the brunt of criticism for not having done very much about improving the economic outlook. However, when out of courtesy they extended the administration an invitation, the summit suddenly became the administration’s call.

But putting hurt egos aside, one should ask the question, do we need all the “frou-frou” of a fancy summit? Given the complaints that have been preached and in some cases described as “whined” about by the business community for years, why is some big shindig necessary. . .unless it is more for show and less to really do with fixing the problem.

After all, it is an election year and we know that politicians live to get re-elected. What is there to discuss about improving the economy and the business climate? Are state leaders still wishing that high technology firms will dot the landscape if only they can be given tax breaks? Are state leaders still telling themselves that Hawaii is the crossroads of the Pacific and if we just build it they will come?

Come on, guys! Let’s just admit it that the business climate in Hawaii stinks. For years, lawmakers were able to shove all kinds of mandates and requirements down businesses’ throats, businesses endured it because Hawaii was still a pretty good place to do business because it was still a novelty to outside investors. Businesses also endure it because Hawaii is a “small town” and you just don’t buck the system without someone getting revenge.

It is this complacency or perhaps we should call it intimidation that kept businesses from speaking up, from holding government accountable. In turn, labor fought hard to insure that workers’ rights were written into law and they pushed for higher wages, as is labor’s role. The result is that there are so many laws protecting workers and consumers that these “regulations” place a heavy cost burden on businesses.

No wonder businesses are at a disadvantage in Hawaii. Not only must they cope with the heavy burden of taxes up front, but they must also pay a heavy price in the mandatory regulations imposed on their businesses.

State officials argue that these regulations are necessary to protect workers and to insure that Hawaii’s pristine environment is kept that way. Hey, nobody is arguing against workers’ rights, decent pay and a clean environment, but when all of those regulations start killing off the businesses that provide the jobs so that workers can put bread on the table, there is something wrong with that picture.

Economic summit or not? There is already plenty on the plate, but lawmakers and state administration officials find the food distasteful because it just may take something away from the people who support them. That’s too bad, because that kind of thinking will only insure that we sink even deeper into this economic slump. Having an economic summit when we already know what the problems are amounts to nothing more than political window dressing.

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