It appears that goals other than what is good for the people of Hawaii have dictated what the economic recovery medicine should be rather than what is truly good for the future of our community. Unfortunately, that remedy is more of a political compromise than a real solution to the problems we face.
Perhaps ashamed that the situation was allowed to deteriorate over the past seven years, both political leaders as well as business leaders are desperate to deliver any response that looks like it will be better than doing “nothing.” The result is that instead of making an overall effort to reduce the size of government, the response is to find a middle ground to keep everybody “happy.”
This means for the constituent, a tax cut that elected officials hope will get them re-elected at the polls in November; and for the public employee unions, business as usual by raising enough tax revenues to keep the status quo.
The high burden of taxes has long been acknowledged by those who have had to contend with it, be it businesses or families. For years, it was the art of the lawmaker to find ways to make others pay those taxes while delivering a message to constituents that no new taxes or tax increases were needed to keep funding government. For a number of years, government lived off an exuberant economy when nothing seemed to go wrong, investors were willing to plunk down millions of dollars in Hawaii, and the tide of visitors never seemed to cease.
In those good times, public programs proliferated, public facilities were built as if building was going out of style, and the pat answer to any problem was to either study it or to spend money on it. And the usual voice of opposition found on the mainland, a role played by the business community, was no where to be found.
Why? Either they were direct beneficiaries of the government largesse or they were afraid to challenge the system to which they were obligated for permits, zoning changes, and contracts.
Thus, Hawaii has become the classical textbook case of the breakdown of a democracy. Elected officials are not held accountable because of the shifting spotlight of responsibility. No one voices dissent for fear of reprisal, and everyone is led to believe that government can solve all our problems.
Well, folks, believe it or not, government cannot solve all our community’s problemsnor should it be allowed to do so, for as we have all learned in the past decade, government soon becomes the source of all problems. In this case, it is the source that has drained the economy and its people dry not only monetarily, but also spiritually. The morale of the community is probably at its nadir, its lowest point. And no amount of thumbs up jingoism is going to reverse that trend.
What will turn the tide is true leadership, leadership that looks to real solutions and putting those solutions into action, leadership that realizes that you can’t make everybody happy, leadership that demonstrates courage to stand up and say what needs to be said, leadership that will take risks, and leadership that cares more about the future of our state than next year’s elections. Unfortunately, that leadership is sorely lacking as evidenced by the events of the past few months. Instead of making the hard decisions and taking a stand, it has been easier to compromise, to go along – to get along.
What the astute leaders didn’t count on is a populace that has had enough, enough smoke and mirrors, enough shell games, enough taxes, enough excuses, enough, enough, enough. This time the charade is to convince voters that an increase in the general excise tax rate is acceptable because income taxes are being lowered, but taxpayers understand clearly what is happening. They are being thrown some crumbs while getting hit with a tax increase at the other end.
Let’s hope that somewhere out there is some leadership that will recognize that the real issue at hand is the size of government. If the leadership in power today doesn’t have the courage to cut spending, then be honest, tell the taxpayers that they are not willing to cut the size of government.