By Lowell L. Kalapa
There is no doubt that if the economy is going to continue to grow, it needs to do so at a pace that will be greater than the growth of government during the past ten or fifteen years. Whether measured in the number of employees or the expenditures of government, there is no doubt that government has grown.
To some degree, lawmakers and administration officials have made it increasingly more difficult to measure the size of government as they moved what were at one time general financed services into special funds attaching fees and user charges as ways to pay for these services. As a result, one cannot compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges.
However, when one takes into account the overall spending of both state and county governments in Hawaii, spending has grown much faster than the rate of inflation which means either more services and workers were added or the services provided got more expensive to provide. The result is that state and local government in Hawaii has had to reap more and more revenues – better known as taxes and fees – from taxpayers. Even when the state’s economy went into an economic slump, lawmakers managed to paste and patch funding sources together so that they could avoid having to cut services. Raising special funds and transferring money between accounts perpetuated the size of government at a time when everyone else was downsizing and tightening their belts.
As a result, government is even larger than before the economic downturn of the last decade. During that time, lawmakers were afraid to make any reductions in fear that the “safety net” would disappear. However, with a robust economy that is supporting a less than 2% unemployment rate, it is a good time to begin thinking about containing the growth of state and local government in Hawaii to insure that our community is never caught in the situation of having to paste and patch funding for government programs during an economic downturn.
For a state that proclaimed its support for the high tech industry, it seems that we have one of the lowest levels of technological advances in running state and local government in Hawaii. The joke is that the state runs many of its applications on Wang computer systems, a system that has long been discarded by the rest of the world. The other is that some of the children in the state’s foster care programs or children that are on public assistance may receive the same immunization three or four times in the same year because the records systems of the different departments do not talk with each other.
Data collected on cases handled by social workers should be processed immediately with the latest development in software and technology so that cases don’t fall through the cracks or go for weeks without action being taken because information is being transferred via snail mail.
And what about doing business with the state? Under the state’s procurement laws, vendors must seek tax clearances from the state and federal tax offices, clearances from the department of labor and industrial relations and a certificate of “good standing” from the department of commerce and consumer affairs. The vendors or their representatives must physically go from office to office to secure these documents in order to enter into a contract and then secure tax clearances once again to receive the final payment of a contract. And unlike other tax clearances, for the purposes of entering a state contract the tax clearance is good only for a two-month period unlike the usual valid period of six months.
It would seem that a lot of time and cost – after all time is money, at least in the private sector – could be saved if the contracting agency would seek these clearances electronically since it is one state agency talking to another state agency about a contract that is being issued by the state. Not only does it waste the time of the vendor, but also requires additional state workers to go and check the files of the applicant vendor. And if it is a matter of confidentiality, the applicant vendor could sign a release allowing the state agency doing the contracting to request this information on the part of the vendor.
The procurement process, while designed to prevent fraud and abuse, is symbolic of the labyrinth of the state bureaucracy. What is more insulting is that it is government that drags its feet in paying its bills on time, expecting vendors to finance state government purchases because businesses have had to borrow the money to deliver the goods and services purchased by government. This is not an efficient way to run government.