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Road Ahead Begs for Vision of Bigger Picture

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Although lawmakers introduced more than 3,400 bills this past session, they approved just 268 measures in all, the least number approved in recent years.
While some may view that statistic as pathetic, others rejoice in the fact that lawmakers did relatively little damage this year. Indeed as one observer opined, when they don’t have any money lawmakers don’t know what to do. Based on the Legislature’s track record, passing less legislation actually could be beneficial as it is that many less rules and regulations governing our daily lives.
What is sad is that neither the legislature nor the state administration set out a vision or broad agenda that would give us an idea where our state is headed in the next 20 or 50 years. What was obvious from this recently completed session is that with an administration of a different party than that holding court in the Legislature, the political spitballs were numerous and frequent. As a result, both lawmakers and administration officials were bogged down with the details at the expense of the broader view of what our state should look like in 20 or 50 years.
For many who voted for change last fall, that change seems to have eluded the first six months of this maiden voyage. Instead of improving the business climate, both administrators and policy makers relied on the tried and true strategies of the past few years. Tax credit proposals abounded at the start of the session and as a panacea to stimulate the economy. Yet by the end of the session many of those proposals fell by the wayside as the price tags became unaffordable. A few of those tax incentives made it to the governor’s desk and, yes, a few may even get signed into law. But as another legislative observer noted, it might be too early to expect the administration to have a comprehensive vision and therefore a package of proposals that achieves that vision. While that may be true, one might ask whether or not something is being done to put together that vision in the interim and how much field work is being done to help define that vision. Once defined, how will we, as a community, be able to get there?
No doubt, at the top of the list for many in the community insofar as vision is a vibrant economy that can provide jobs for our children. So what is it going to take to get us there?
A few years ago, the business roundtable highlighted education as the major effort to improve the economy. They commissioned all kinds of reports and made all sorts of suggestions to improve education. It all made sense until someone pointed out that all Hawaii was doing was training kids to leave the state to find employment elsewhere because Hawaii certainly didn’t have the jobs for those kids to fill upon graduation.
So along came others who suggested that the way of the future was in high technology because that industry needs highly skilled workers and they pay well. So efforts turned in the direction of high technology. Lawmakers were enticed into adopting tax incentives to lure not only high technology companies to Hawaii but to lure high risk venture capital to the state to fuel these high-tech start up ventures.
But even those high technology companies are few and far between and when the incentives run out, will they ask for more or will they be able to survive like all the other companies that are part of Hawaii’s business community? Or will the high technology industry become just like the construction industry, demanding tax break after tax break because they “contribute” so much to the economic base?
Hopefully as the administration takes a “breather” during the interim between legislative sessions,they will do some homework and define just what needs to be done to insure a strong and vibrant economy for Hawaii’s future. The vision has to be defined not only for public policy makers but for the community at-large and it has to be a vision that has unanimous support of all of the community.
The broader picture of improving the business climate for all and insuring that there are opportunities for workers as well as employers is critical. Understanding what makes this Island economy tick and diversifying the economic base are crucial to Hawaii’s future. Handing out tax breaks for some and not for all insures that we will all fail as someone — and that means everyone not so favored — will have to pick up the slack.
This is not an exercise fit for partisan politics, but it is vital to our community’s future. We need vision and we need leaders who can see the bigger picture.

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