Mayor's fiscal recipe awaits ingredients


POSTED: Friday, February 20, 2009

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has a fondness for injecting show business into the stern world of running City Hall, delivering along with songs and fables a slim accounting of how Honolulu will tackle its serious financial problems.

Hannemann's “;State of the City”; speech yesterday articulated many fine aspirations, but had few details about how he will deal with a $50 million budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year and a much larger one in 2010.

After crooning his introduction, the mayor framed his monologue in a tale about “;stone soup,”; in which villagers, unwilling to feed a band of travelers, part with bits and pieces from their larders to make a broth for all to eat, the story illustrative of his call for collective sacrifices to get through the city's hard times.

Public employees' contribution of ingredients will be to forego pay increases, according to the recipe. Hannemann and his department heads will put into the pot a total savings of between $250,000 and $300,000 a year by working for free one day a month. The amount is more symbolic than substantial.

Residents will have to wait until next month, when the mayor presents his budget, to find out what they might have to drop into the mixture. Though he hasn't yet said whether he will propose increases in property tax rates, the city expects a projected $170 million shortfall in fiscal 2010-2011 as property values flatten and the city's share of hotel room taxes declines in tandem with visitor numbers.

The mayor served up as big a kettle of optimism as he could, noting the city is “;in good shape”; because of freezes on hiring and spending. But as he and taxpayers are well aware, you can't squeeze cash from a stone.