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StarBulletin.com

Furloughs brought fiscal crisis home


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POSTED: Thursday, December 31, 2009

As Hawaii demurely celebrated 50 years of statehood in the middle of recession, the isles proved, if there were any doubt, that 2,500 miles of ocean offers no protection from mainland-style misery. A shrinking state budget, commercial bankruptcies, a deadly strain of flu and random violence all made headlines.

Bright spots like the canonization of Father Damien kept the news from being all bad. And changes in leadership in the White House and the Honolulu Police Department pointed to much work still ahead.

Here are the Top 10 Hawaii news stories of 2009 from the Star-Bulletin's editors.

1. Fewer school days: In what became emblematic of a school system in distress, the state instituted Furlough Fridays, giving students, teachers and staff 17 periodic (unpaid) days off. The budget-cutting move, approved by Gov. Linda Lingle and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, brought almost universal derision in a state where the school year was already among the shortest in the nation. The Hawaii Government Employees Association agreed to a similar deal, shutting down nearly all government offices on affected Fridays.

2. The Big Squeeze: In her 2008 State of the State Address, Lingle proposed buying the 850-acre Turtle Bay Resort to preserve the landscape from further development. That was then. By early 2009, the state budget was in a near free fall, bringing various calls for layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and/or a drastic reduction in government services. “;There are some people who can't yet accept that the world has changed dramatically over the past year,”; Lingle said on July 8. “;We will not be the same government when we come out of this process.”; The latest in projected red ink: $1.23 billion.

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3. A saint for Hawaii: Father Damien De Veuster won official recognition as a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in an Oct. 11 canonization ceremony in Rome attended by more than 600 Hawaii residents. The 19th-century priest, who died of leprosy in 1889, was long recognized for his years of selfless service to Hansen's disease exiles on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula.

4. The Kamaaina-in-Chief: On Jan. 21, Hawaii-born Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States. Obama returned to Hawaii for the holidays, renting a beachfront estate in Kailua and using the nearby Kaneohe Marine base as an ersatz Camp David.

5. The 50th state turns 50: With little fanfare in deference to the economic downturn, Hawaii marked 50 years of statehood on Aug. 21.

6. Knives from nowhere: Two unprovoked stabbing cases, as unusual as they were shocking, epitomized the frightening possibilities of random violence. Soon after leaving a hair salon at Ewa Town Center, Waianae High School teacher Asa Yamashita was stabbed to death Feb. 27, allegedly by Tittleman Fauatea, 25, whose mental competence is at issue in court. On Feb. 1, 20-year-old Benjamin Davis of Kalihi allegedly stabbed two hikers on the slopes of Koko Crater. A court-appointed panel recently concluded he suffers from paranoid psychosis.

7. Mutant bugs take a toll: The first wave of the H1N1 “;swine flu”; pandemic arrived in Hawaii at the end of April and spread over the summer. Hawaii recorded its first swine flu death on May 5 and by year's end the toll had reached 11. Thousands of children received free vaccines at school.

8. Who's who at Honolulu Blue: The Honolulu Police Commission declined to give Chief Boisse Correa a new contract, spurring a search for a successor. After considering other top brass and mainland candidates, the commission tapped a popular captain, Louis Kealoha, who had the backing of the police union.

9. Aloha, Alakai: Ending a sad chapter in interisland travel that brought accusations of corporate hubris and government overreaching, the Oahu-Maui ferry Alakai left Honolulu Harbor for good March 28 after the state Supreme Court found flaws in its environmental permitting process. Hawaii Superferry Inc. filed for bankruptcy May 30 in Delaware.

10. Murder of a tourist: A jogger found the naked body in the surf at Waikiki. But foul play clearly led to the drowning of New Mexico tourist Bryanna Antone, 25, on Oct. 2. The flagrant crime on a resort beach was all the more alarming because overnight workers at a nearby hotel had heard a commotion but reported nothing. Attention soon turned to a freshly released inmate, Aaron Susa, found hiding in bushes in Makiki a week later.