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StarBulletin.com

Sen. Hooser criticizes but fails to offer solutions


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

For more than a year and a half, the facts about the state's economic and fiscal challenges have been clearly laid out, but unfortunately, some refuse to accept the reality that until the state's revenues recover, we simply cannot continue to pay for all the existing government programs.

In a recent opinion piece, Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser questions the administration's urgency to balance the budget, including the need for layoffs, and says that addressing the budget shortfall “;takes time”; and “;long-term planning”; (”;Across-the-board layoffs do not create savings,”; Star-Bulletin, Sept. 24).

Hooser seems oblivious to the rapid and steep rate in which the state's unprecedented budget shortfall developed.

From March 2008 through Aug. 27, 2009, the Council on Revenues, which forecasts the state's tax revenues, projected that Hawaii will have nearly $3 billion less revenue than anticipated through June 30, 2011. This is nearly one-third of the state's total projected general fund budget for the next two years — funds that we cannot spend because we don't have them.

Through various prudent spending restrictions, the administration has reduced spending by $2 billion. However, we still face a $496 million shortfall in the next nine months and an additional $529 million from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

Because of the huge revenue losses between fiscal years 2009 and 2011, it will take until fiscal 2012 for our revenues to return to pre-recession levels. Because of this, it cannot be business as usual, and we cannot follow Hooser's strategy of kicking the can down the road and hoping things will get better. For Hooser to say that there is no need for urgency and to call the administration's actions to balance the growing budget shortfall “;fear-based decision-making,”; shows how out of touch he is with reality.

Hooser prefers that we hold hearings and community discussions to debate the type and size of government we should have. Frankly, the Legislature should have held such discussions three or four years ago.

While Hooser is busy debating options, the administration is facing up to our fiscal responsibility by taking immediate steps to address the current financial crisis. Many of the decisions that are being made are not ones we want to make, but are what needs to done to ensure the state government does not run out of money.

Hooser questions the need for layoffs, but does not acknowledge that labor costs account for 60 percent of the state's budget. The administration exhausted other sources to realize $2 billion in spending reductions before turning to labor savings.

The most disappointing part about Hooser's criticisms is that he fails to offer any solutions. He has not proposed one fee or tax he would increase to generate more revenue. Nor has he proposed one program or service he would cut.

It's one thing for Hooser to disagree with the administration's approach to addressing the budget shortfall ... but to not offer any solutions or be willing to make tough decisions in this time of crisis shows a lack of leadership.

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Georgina Kawamura is director of the state Department of Budget and Finance.