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Joining Hands to Move Forward

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

Once the last votes have been tallied and we know who are our elected representatives for at least the next two, if not four years, it is time that we all get behind our leaders and move our community forward.
Indeed there are many challenges for our community from the challenge of reforming and improving our education system to addressing the rising tide of crystal methamphetamine addiction to just making sure that our toilets flush and the roads are pot-hole free.
At the root of all of these efforts will be the question of how much do we spend and where do we get the money from to pay for all of programs and projects. While elected officials may want to believe that the barrel is bottomless, there is only so much that taxpayers can afford to pay for public programs before the burden of taxes and fees begins to take its toll on the economic vibrancy of our community.
Much as many would like to think that all elected officials have to do is to spend enough money on a problem to solve it, we know by experience that more money does not always represent the best solution. Many times it is a matter of overcoming the government bureaucracy that can stand in the way of thoughtful and creative solutions.
In fact, one group looking at the “ice” problem over the interim remarked that there was a lack of coordination and collaboration among the various state, federal, county and private agencies that deliver services, often duplicating what another agency or department is doing. As a result, these agencies don’t make the best use of the resources they have while failing to provide the utopian “seamless” system of services.
Lawmakers are just as guilty in contributing to the problem by taking care of their special pet project or organization while ignoring the much bigger picture of the problem at hand. Funding individual programs rather than a strategy that will attack the problem with a holistic approach needlessly squanders precious resources and insures that public and private agencies perpetuate the “silo” mentality.
Now is a time to make a new beginning on how we solve the problems that face our community. Newly elected officials at all levels must come together to address the problems that challenge our community. It is time to put aside partisan politics and make the best use of the taxes we all pay to provide for the needs of the community. It is also time to recognize that quick fixes like tax incentives to encourage economic activity or a special exemption to attract a specific industry to Hawaii are actually making the business climate worse rather than better because they shift the burden of taxes to all other taxpayers.
How often we hear that Hawaii is unique, unlike any other place in the nation or for that matter the world, yet elected officials return from conferences and conventions eager to overlay some program or solution they picked up at their meeting. Hawaii is an island state. And as a result, it does have unique challenges.
For example, everybody seemed to jump on the bandwagon when the cruise ship industry raised the prospect of regular around-the-state cruises without having to leave island waters. More jobs were touted, more sales were eyed, and the vision of more visitors danced like sugarplum fairies in the minds of lawmakers. But did anyone stop to think how much competition for port and docking space this would create for Hawaii’s vital harbor system? For a while there it seemed that people lost sight of the fact that nearly everything we consume in Hawaii must come through the harbor portal.
An example of the disjointed jurisdiction of a variety of state agencies is Honolulu Harbor. One would immediately jumps to the conclusion that Honolulu Harbor is under the jurisdiction of the transportation department. Not so, there are, in fact, three different agencies including the harbors division of the department of transportation. Also having jurisdiction over various parts of Honolulu Harbor is the Hawaii Community Development Authority and the Aloha Tower Development Corporation. While each of these latter two was well intended when created, it makes it difficult to move projects forward and for the taxpayer difficult to ascertain what the state’s priority is for this vital gateway.
This is only one example of how government could improve its approach to problems with better coordination. Certainly, education and the “ice” problem will remain high on the list of challenges for elected officials. Let’s hope our elected officials pull together to work toward the common goal with a coordinated effort.

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