Governor's economic panel gets mixed reviews
REACTION to a final report by Gov. Linda Lingle's Economic Momentum Commission, which contains recommendations aimed at sustaining the state economy over the longer term, is as diverse as the panel itself.
Many members of Hawaii's business, social and political communities praised the panel for looking beyond the current robust economy to the future. Others criticized it for concentrating on broad social issues and said the needs of small businesses should have played a larger role. And some, who did not wish to be named, did not read the recommendations at all.
Most, however, agree that the recommendations, which covered 11 areas ranging from housing to taxation, education, work-force development, tourism, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, health care, the environment and Native Hawaiian issues, are a good starting point.
"Our recommendations cover a broad range of issues, reflecting the commission's unanimous sentiment that economic growth should not come at the expense of the quality of life of Hawaii's residents," said Don Horner, president and chief executive of First Hawaiian Bank and chairman of the commission.
The 30-member commission was formed this summer to develop an action plan for the state. Its members include the leadership of the Legislature as well as representatives from businesses, labor unions, nonprofits, environmental, cultural and educational organizations, government and the military.
Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai), a longtime proponent of small business who was not on the commission, criticized the makeup of the panel, saying that the members "don't represent small business, the engine that drives the economy in this state."
"Where was the economics?" Slom said when asked about the broad recommendations and challenges issued by the commission.
The commission's recommendations were endorsed by a majority of its members, Horner said.
"People checked their party labels at the door and debated candidly and passionately about the needs of our state and its people," he said.
Rep. Bev Harbin (D, Kakaako), who also serves as president of the Employers' Chamber of Commerce, said the panel stopped short of addressing some of the most important issues concerning small businesses, including workers' compensation, health care costs, tort reform, regulatory reform and the state excise tax.
"This is just one more of those touchy-feely, people-hugging documents," Harbin said.
Horner said the goal of the commission was to "set out a starting point, to suggest priorities for discussion through the political process to follow."
The commission's report, which is available online at www.emc-hawaii.com, is being delivered to Lingle, leaders of the state Legislature and county governments and policymakers at the Department of Education and University of Hawaii.
"I'm hoping that those to whom the recommendations are addressed would get together with the members of the commission or the champions of these causes to work toward a common goal," said Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
Members of the panel will work to see that the goals, challenges and recommendations outlined in their report will be championed by the state administration, the Legislature and through community partnerships, he said. The commission will reconvene in July.
Lingle's administration is already looking at some of the initiatives supported by the commission, he said.
Many of the recommendations will be picked up by the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan Task Force, which was created by the Legislature last year despite Lingle's veto, said Sen. Russell Kokubun (D, Puna-Kau-Kona), chairman of the task force.
Kokubun said that any plan for Hawaii's economic future needs to consider the needs of all members of the community.
"Many of us feel that there is tremendous prosperity in this state, but it's not across the board," Kokubun said. "There are many segments of the community who do not share in this prosperity. We need to consider why we have such a large homeless population and why there is so much drug abuse and look at all of these types of issues if we are to plan for the future."
When it comes to economics, the state can't afford not to talk about quality-of-life issues like home ownership, affordable housing and ending homelessness, said Dale Tomei, education coordinator at the Hawaii Homeownership Center.
No matter how good the state's economy is, it can't be sustained if the work force can't afford to buy homes, Tomei said, praising the commission for its concern about the widening gap between what the typical working family can afford and the state's median home prices.
"The rising cost of everything has made it a lot more difficult for a lot of our families," said Tomei, who bought his first home in 1996 in Royal Kunia after saving $36,000 with his wife, Julie.
Education and home ownership programs are one of the keys to ending homelessness and improving the quality of life for Hawaii's residents, he said.
BROAD RANGE OF SUGGESTIONS FOR ACTION
Some recommendations of Gov. Linda Lingle's economic commission:
» The city and the Hawaii Community Development Authority should develop affordable housing at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station at Kalaeloa.
» State and county governments should adopt standardized impact fees and the balance of land-use authority should reside with the counties.
» The Department of Education should have flexibility in hiring qualified teacher and principal applicants.
» The University of Hawaii should partner with the Navy to establish a university-affiliated research center.
» The University of Hawaii community colleges should establish a set of "rapid response" work-force training programs.
» New legislation should address renewable energy.
» Energy tax credits should be extended.
» A regional health information organization should be formed to develop a medical records system and digital connectivity among health-care providers.
» There should be additional financial support for watershed management.
» Owners of agricultural lands should be allowed to apply for rezoning to allow development on the boundaries of agricultural subdivisions, with a buffer green-belt required to separate the residential and agricultural land.
» Honolulu Airport should be redeveloped into a state-of-the-art facility and neighbor island airports should be upgraded.
» A public/private partnership should be formed to meet the needs of commercial and the state should be allowed to lease small-boat harbors to counties or private concessionaires.