Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, January 22, 1997


Cayetano wants to heal
the economy

IF you were sick and Gov. Ben Cayetano were the physician, he would carefully measure out the medicine, put it on the counter and say, "Here, drink this." He would then leave, assuming that you were smart enough to heed the obvious directions.

People would go to him because his various diagnoses were usually right, not because his bedside manner was particularly soothing.

Cayetano yesterday served up that same style as he used his State of the State speech to treat the ailing patient that is our economy.

The prescription: economic stimulation through government spending and carefully aimed tax cuts.

The governor wasn't out to sell the moon, nor did he want to touch your hopes and dreams. Instead, he proffered a speech driven by the times, not a standard liberal Democrat speech but a series of changes, promises and suggestions to save the economy.

In better times, such a speech would not have impressed.

Besides the economy, Hawaii has other problems.

Our environment isn't getting better. Just this week, for instance, the federal government tabbed Keehi Lagoon as one of less than two dozen sites across the country with increased levels of pollution.

Last week, a respected national study again put the spotlight on Hawaii's poor public education system, with its poorly paid and under-trained teachers, and overcrowded and run-down schools.

Still, with its sturdy workmanlike quality, Cayetano's address contained both a gamble and an element of the political.

There is no certainty that the Cayetano tax credit plan will be much more than a quick and expensive fix.

Spurring on hotel construction, giving tax breaks to architects and engineers, and laying another $10 million on the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau won't guarantee the economy will turn around.

In fact, some could argue that the Cayetano administration has already presided over the carving up of a tax credit system designed to remove the injustice of taxing people for food, medicine and shelter.

Cayetano now wants to drop the remaining food tax credit and use other credits to encourage care for the elderly, the real estate market and higher education.

Cayetano was interrupted by applause from the assembled House and Senate members 16 times during his 42-minute speech, but there is no assurance that the Democratic majority will approve the administration's plan.

For instance, in a clearly political move, Cayetano modified former Mayor Frank Fasi's odd idea, thrown out during the last mayoral campaign, to utilize the National Guard to fight the war against crime.

WHILE Fasi wanted to put troops on the battlefield known as Waikiki, Cayetano hopes the Guard will develop volunteer programs to expand neighborhood security watches.

Cayetano said that putting more police on the street, like in cities such as New York, has resulted in a significantly lowered crime rate. He neglected to add that experts say the New York reductions were caused by a zero tolerance approach to all crimes, with even minor infractions resulting in criminal charges.

All that aside, Cayetano's speech will still have a difficult time being adopted - unless the governor abandons his hands-off approach, starts lobbying the Legislature and vigorously sells his program to an extremely "patient" public.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com



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