Gathering Place
Sen. Gary L. Hooser

Monday, September 26, 2005

A vision should begin
with the end in mind

Having a new beginning hardly matters if there is no end in mind.

Too often government leaders take what can only be characterized as an ADD (attention deficit disorder) approach to public policy setting. It seems this is the American way. We respond and react to the situation that screams for attention the loudest, and then seek instant gratification utilizing whatever resources are available at that moment.

The systemic issues include our total dependence on oil, the lack of a diversified economy, underfunded natural resource management, housing markets driven by nonresidents, our inconsistent support of public education and a tourism industry that has reached well beyond its saturation point.

While the tendency of government is to focus on short-term Band-Aid solutions, the significant education reforms contained in Act 51, the "Legacy Lands Act" and the recent action enabling construction of a new fixed-rail transit system in Honolulu are three examples of good, long-term and visionary public policy making at the state level.

Unfortunately, however, there seems to be no consistency as to the setting of priorities and the allocation of resources. There is no statewide vision, no clear and consistent focus, and policy priorities seem to shift annually in the winds of public sentiment.

The proposal by the governor and others to cut taxes at this time reinforces this reality. If there were a plan, a vision and a clear set of priorities, the administration would be advocating spending the excess funds to accelerate the plan. The reality is that our state is guided not by vision or plan but by pure political pressure. During the past three years, following the governor's lead, our priorities have shifted from education, to drugs, to housing and now to tax cuts (timed conveniently to precede the 2006 elections).

A new beginning is meaningless if there is no vision, no focus and no plan.

Therein lies the problem. Instead of a steady hand steering us toward a future of our own creation, our state leadership seems to be merely seeking the wind, with little thought given to the destination.

Yes, there are inequities within our tax system and yes, we should take a long-term, comprehensive approach to reforming our tax structure. But this should be done within the context of a long-term plan with clear priorities and measurable benchmarks.

Before we go off cutting taxes and giving away the precious resources that have been in desperately short supply these past 10 years, we need to stop, take a long, hard look at what we would like our future to be and then take steps to get there.

Fortunately, the majority in the Legislature, led by Big Island Sen. Russell Kokubun, stepped up to the plate this year and passed into law Senate Bill 1592 (now Act 8), which calls for the creation of a "Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan". Though originally vetoed by the governor, SB 1592 became law after the veto was overridden in a special session of the Legislature.

As one of the co-introducers of SB 1592 and a member of the 2050 Task Force, I will be working with colleagues and communities around the state in this effort to produce a plan and a vision for the year 2050. The result will be a document intended to clearly define state goals and establish priority guidelines for setting public policy, something that is lacking today.

The creation of a new and revitalized vision of Hawaii's future, and then an implementation plan to take us there, represents an exciting and valuable opportunity.

Gov. John A. Burns initiated the community visioning process when he commissioned a 1970 report titled "Hawaii: 2000." This effort involved more than 2,000 residents from all walks of life from around the state. In later years Gov. George Ariyoshi also committed significant resources into properly planning our state's future. It is long past the time for today's leaders in state government to pick the ball back up and begin again this vital process.

Sen. Gary L. Hooser, a Democrat, represents the 7th District (Kauai, Niihau).

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