(Released on 12/26/10)
Like the national administration, the new state administration has promised “change” in how state government will deliver services and programs.
The problem with touting change is that in many cases those changes are not necessarily for the better and sometimes create more havoc than common sense. For taxpayers, change means how well their tax dollars will be used to deliver those services that are critical to the health and safety of the community. It means the efficient use of what precious tax dollars can be shared with government. However, it sometimes seems that public officials are unwilling to take a risk and impose numerous hurdles to insure the blame is not placed on this or that person or this or that agency.
As a result, state and county governments are fraught with numerous regulations, permitting and procedures. If there is any change that goes begging it is the reduction and streamlining of government regulations and permitting. Some may argue that all of those regulations and procedures are there for a good reason, to protect the public and to insure the safety and health of the community at large. That may be true, but when those regulations and procedures impede the efficient delivery of services or public goods, then they come at a cost greater than the cost of delivering those services. Every day of delay costs not only money for the applicant, but ultimately the final consumer of the goods and services as those permits or regulations the applicant is authorized to deliver will eventually cost even more.
This one of the major reasons – besides the cost of land in Hawaii – why housing is so expensive. One recently approved housing development took nearly 20 years to move through the re-zoning process. And that doesn’t even count the number of years it will probably take to get all of the building permits. Since all of the applications had to be paid for by the developer, the cost of those activities had to be financed with a loan, a loan on which interest must be paid. Thus, the longer it takes to get the first spade in the ground, the more cost is incurred as a result of that financing.
As noted in an earlier commentary, despite lawmakers touting high technology as the saving grace for Hawaii’s economic future, the state has to be one of the most archaic organizations in town with computer systems that are thirty or forty years old with each department having its own system. While the State Auditor reviewed the information technology needs of the state, those recommendations have been shelved for the lack of money to accomplish the task. Lawmakers should reconsider the proposal and spend the money to bring the state government into the 21st Century by modernizing the state’s computer system and adopting a single system for all departments. That is a change that would improve the efficiency of state government.
Speaking of housing and the growing problem of Hawaii’s homeless population, state leaders must recognize that the problem does not end with providing a shelter for people’s heads but goes far beyond that by empowering those who are either homeless or in public housing with the skills that will allow them to move off the beaches, through public housing then to subsidize housing and to ultimately be able to compete for market housing. Without the support and provision of skills, those in public housing will remain in public housing and those who are on the beaches will have no where to go because there is no more additional public housing that will or can be built.
Transition of the homeless and those in public housing into market housing increases the efficiency of state government in helping to solve the huge backlog of those wanting subsidized housing. Again, providing affordable housing means more than putting a roof over a family’s head. Without those support services, things will never change for those on the beaches or in public housing.
Efficiency in the delivery of social services also begs change in the way those services are delivered. A more holistic approach must be taken to insure that services are well coordinated and those services are easily accessible. Too often there are stories where families are sent from one provider to another or from one office to another. This is inefficient and frustrating for the family in need.
Yes, change we must, but let’s hope the changes the new state administration makes will increase the efficiency in which state services are delivered and that the taxpayers’ dollars are well spent.
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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