A little dusting cleans up that surplus
How are you and the $700 million surplus doing?
Not since 1994, when John Waihee was governor, has Hawaii been so awash in extra spending money.
In the days of Waihee, the surplus was estimated at $500 million.
Today Gov. Linda Lingle's bean counters put the surplus at upwards of $700 million, counted over two years.
By the time Waihee had left office, the surplus was gone. Instead, when Lt. Gov. Ben Cayetano became governor, his first speech was to announce budget cuts, lay-offs and repeals of tax credits.
In some ways Hawaii never recovered from the slashes Cayetano was forced to make. The vanished tax credits, for instance, had been installed to answer Republican criticism that the state taxed people's food, medicine and medical services.
Instead of returning the money, the state had a system of tax credits -- that is, "Give us your tax money and we will give you back some of it for the taxes you spent on food and drugs." The poor got back a bit more.
During the Waihee years taxpayers also got a $100 rebate, because of the state constitutionally mandated rebate provision. That cost the state treasury more than $100 million.
By the end of Waihee's term, however, much of the money went to salaries for an increased workforce. As one Waihee supporter put it, "Imagine all the money was in a flour sifter and the entire state was just dusted with money -- everybody got a little more."
So what to do with this year's surplus? An argument is being made that there is no surplus. The state isn't spending more, it is catching up, they contend.
As Hawaii's population grows, the problems also increase. A little housing shortage becomes a big homeless problem. A little pollution becomes an antique sewer system targeted by the Environmental Protection Agency. And just a few more cars on the road have led to a $3 billion mass transit system and a 12.5 percent tax increase.
Pay raises for state workers could cost an additional $366 million, if the workers get the 5.5 percent increase for each of the next two years, as is being estimated by the Legislature.
Add to that the $137 million in add-ons that are under consideration at the Legislature and you can see how once again the state's surplus will wind up as just a gentle dusting over all checkbooks.