Time to build the bridge over state's fiscal chasm


POSTED: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How many more steps can Hawaii's leaders take before they fall off a cliff?

This week the news from the state's bean counters was simple: There are no more beans.

The state tax office on Monday announced that the state is doing worse than predicted; the state is taking in less than it expected.

Last month Hawaii took in 9 percent less than it did during the same period last year. Now the new calculations have the state taking in nearly 11 percent less.

It is now an almost certainty that the state's budget projections will be off by at least an additional $100 million.

“;We haven't seen the bottom yet,”; says Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

“;We are going to have to make very, very, very hard and difficult choices and decisions,”; Oshiro says.

All that is in the abstract. Here is the state's dilemma in reality: I know a young woman, a single mom, one of the state's hardest-working custodians.

She has four kids. On Friday, the four kids didn't go to school because the public schools were shut. They went with mom, spent half the day at the public library and the other half of the day following mom around. Unless something happens, their story will grow grimmer because next month she is scheduled to be laid off.

If you say “;Shrink the size of government,”; that is what happens: Single moms with four kids get laid off. Kids don't go to school.

Exactly what part of that Hawaii government has been “;right-sized”;?

Oshiro says, “;Whether you are a government worker or a beneficiary of government services, you will be impacted.”;

For Gov. Linda Lingle and the budget czars like Oshiro, the choices are the very definition of a dilemma: Either get more money or stop spending.

Getting more money means something unpopular: Raise taxes, take it from the counties, take it from the rail fund or legalize some form of gaming. The state Legislature in past years took the taxes option before it found a reason to allow gaming.

If the decision is to stop spending, then you start picking jobs and programs you will not buy. Are mental services for the poor a luxury? How about food inspectors? How many days can we pay school teachers?

So far Hawaii has a lot of people measuring the depth of the cliff and no one with an idea for getting safely to the other side.