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Friday, January 21, 2000

Mayor Harris’ State
of the City speech

Bullet The issue: Jeremy Harris pledged that he will not seek an increase in property tax rates.

Bullet Our view: His pledge to make do with less money plays well in hard times.

AS a probable candidate for re-election as mayor of Honolulu this fall, Jeremy Harris was undoubtedly pleased to be able to announce in his annual State of the City address that he will not seek an increase in property tax rates despite a projected $16 million fall in revenues due to declining assessments.

The mayor reminded voters that the city work force has shrunk 7 percent since he took office in 1994, but the city nevertheless operates more parks, roads, sewers, police and fire stations than ever before.

All this was by way of reinforcing Harris' claim that he has been able to do more with fewer resources -- a theme of efficiency that plays well in these hard economic times.

Last year's State of the City address featured mass transit -- a proposal to combine light rail and buses as an alternative to building a trolley system from Pearl City to the University of Hawaii-Manoa or developing a "bus rapid-transit" system.

Harris also unveiled his 21st century Oahu visioning program that led to discussions of quality-of-life issues throughout the island and a series of improvements.

In his 1998 address the mayor proposed a Sand Island parkway and a tunnel under Honolulu Harbor -- an intriguing idea that is still awaiting action.

This year Harris had no new initiatives to unveil. The speech was largely a progress report on projects that are already under way. Nothing wrong with that, considering how much work is still needed on the previously announced plans.

In fact several city projects are snarled in controversy, among them the reconstruction of the Kapiolani Park bandstand and the proposed nearby pond, renovation of the Waikiki Natatorium and the proposed visitors education center at Hanauma Bay.

The city's transit plans are a long way from fruition. The mayor's so-called Oahu Trans2K plan will enter the environmental approval stage this year. However, a "Country Express" bus system for Leeward residents will begin in May to go along with the "City Express" launched last year.

Harris has made progress in computerizing city services. In the coming year, he said, the public will be able to pay taxes and fees via credit card online, to access the city's Geographic Information System and tell officials about potholes.

Police officers, he reported, will have information-gathering computers in squad cars and water supply workers will have radio-activated automated meter readers.

The mayor was also able to reel off an impressive list of projects involving parks -- the 200-acre Waipio soccer complex is scheduled to open in August and the first phase of the 269-acre Waiola Central Oahu Regional Park in the fall -- Waikiki beautification, sewage improvements and new police and fire stations.

But the bottom line -- no tax increase while maintaining city services at the same level -- may be the best news in the address. Now all Harris has to do is make good on that pledge.

Anti-drug message

Bullet The issue: The White House drug policy office has agreed to abandon a program of screening TV shows in advance for anti-drug themes.

Bullet Our view: The government has no business interfering with television networks' programs to an extent approaching censorship.

TALK of a "partnership" between government and media should be a warning to be on the alert for propaganda. The arrangement between the White House and television networks to tailor shows to the federal anti-drug policy sets a bad precedent for a form of censorship and should be abandoned.

Unlike the print media, radio and television companies enjoy only limited freedom, subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission. Government licensing is a requirement for operation.

Last October, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House drug policy office, testified at a congressional hearing that it was using financial incentives to encourage television networks to use anti-drug messages in their shows.

Under the arrangement, which began in 1997, federal officials were allowed to screen shows and reward networks for shows with anti-drug themes with financial credits.

Under the system, television networks were asked to match each commercial spot bought by the government with a free one. As the system developed, the government agreed to give up some of the free ad time if the networks' programs conveyed anti-drug themes. That involved government officials reviewing network shows to make an assessment before the shows were telecast.

The office agreed to drop the screening process after a critical report last week by Salon, an Internet magazine. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public-interest firm, called the arrangement "an outrageous abandonment of the First Amendment."

McCaffrey said the program will continue without advance screening of shows to avoid government intrusion into the creative process. "We have forged a strong partnership with the entertainment and media community and look forward to continuing to strengthen those ties," he added.

The government has authority to regulate use of the air waves. However, rules and incentives that interfere with programs that are presumed to be free of government scrutiny are improper. Such a government-media partnership comes dangerously close to censorship.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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