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Time for a New Agenda to Improve the Future of the State

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By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 9/20/09)

Last week we posed a challenge to all who call themselves leaders of our community, a challenge to take risks in making the paradigm shift if there is to be a future for our state and our community.

So, you ask, what is it going to take to insure there is a prosperous future for our state and our community? At the top of the list has to be the fact that state and county governments can no longer dominate the landscape. Government has managed to poke its nose into every nook and cranny of our state’s economic fabric that it is almost impossible to make a move without checking first with government.

Government in Hawaii has managed to either tax or regulate every activity in this state, making it more difficult, if not more costly, to operate any kind of activity in the state. Whether it be a for-profit or a nonprofit organization, there is a government rule or regulation with which these activities must comply in order to deliver a product or service to the public. While there may be good reason for these rules and regulations, sometimes the path they take is obtuse or redundant. So often the rules or the laws are so obscure that businesses end up hiring a specialist in that particular area because the rules or laws are so complicated.

Of course, this just adds to the cost of the operation or project someone is trying to undertake. Then, there are the people who enforce the regulations. Because they do not want to be faulted for any obscure oversight, they reject or deny an application usually without an explanation of why the application is being denied. As a result, a review of an application may take months, if not years, before approval is secured and the project is able to move forward.

For example, a nonprofit wanted to open a domestic violence shelter where there would be more than five unrelated persons living under one roof. First they had to secure a conditional use permit from the local planning board. As part of that permit, the local planning board required that since the shelter did not have a sprinkler system in case of a fire, the shelter had to be within so many feet of a fire hydrant.

Unfortunately, the fire hydrant, if installed, would be beside a federally funded highway and would need to secure the approval of the transportation department. A consultant was hired to prepare an application to seek approval of the transportation department to locate the fire hydrant by the federally funded highway. Based on his experience, the consultant estimated that the permit needed from the transportation department would take a year and a half. Remember now, the house could not be occupied as a shelter because the fire hydrant was a condition of such use. Thus, the house would have had to sit empty for a year and a half.

Luckily, an appeal was made to the powers that be and the application was approved in a matter of months. It was a validation that it did not have to be business as usual and that, in fact, government can move things faster than they have in the past.

Another item on the agenda for change is a change in attitude toward business. For years, businesses in this state have been depicted as the force of evil and perhaps that perception found its genesis in the perception of the Big Five plantation era when a few dominant businesses called the shots. But those days are now long gone. In many cases the large businesses in our state are run by absentee owners. From shopping centers to grocery stores to cable companies, the “shots” are being called by industry captains who don’t know where Bishop Street is nor know the faces of their workers. This is because only those businesses with the economies of scale can afford to survive in such a harsh business climate like Hawaii’s. One recent poll ranked the state just one away from the absolute bottom in business “friendliness.”

So when will lawmakers and bureaucrats recognize that without a business-friendly climate, businesses will close down and lay-off their constituents? When will those elected officials who have their hand out for contributions to the neighborhood little league recognize that businesses must make a profit if they are to have the money for those uniforms?

Not that it is all up to public leaders to move such an agenda forward. Those in the business community must hold public officials accountable for their actions and they must demand that policymakers also take a risk for change.

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Kalapa’s commentary is printed each week in the Maui News, West Hawaii Today, Garden Isle News, and the HawaiiReporter.com.

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