State lawmakers need to act now on financial crisis


POSTED: Friday, February 06, 2009

A bleak assessment suggesting Hawaii's economic recovery is at least a year away heightens the need for state leaders to get moving on a strategy to minimize the effects of deep spending cuts that are sure to come.

They also need to take a good, hard look at how the state functions and adjust to a financial reality that could be markedly different as Hawaii's mainstay tourism industry continues to decline and the global monetary picture changes.

Yet legislators and Gov. Linda Lingle appear reluctant to make even the first moves in confronting the state's immediate fiscal problems, each waiting for the other to lay out proposals, and both skittish to come to grips with the politically sensitive issue of public employee expenses.

Further deferral of tough budget decisions will only intensify the unease among government workers as well as departments and nongovernment organizations that rely on state funding and provide human services, the need for which has become all the more acute during the economic downturn.

Lingle has urged lawmakers and union leaders to keep all options open until March when the Council on Revenues will issue an estimate on tax collections, expected to be much lower as tourist numbers tumble.

The revenue projections will determine the further cuts necessary to balance the state's biennial budget, but the Legislature and the administration should be working out contingencies now in cooperation with employees, agency heads and service providers.

In addition, they should be mapping new courses for beyond the biennium because the state's financial problems likely will persist as long the worldwide economic crisis continues.

Our lawmakers were elected to lead and there is no time to waste.