WELCOME to the new Legislature, with the same old problem: the economy. This year, the legislative world is divided into two camps, those who believe the voters sent a message and they got it, and the other camp believing there was no message and they don't care, because they won anyway.
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The message-getters figure the economy needs fixing, revitalizing, pumping up and a general plumping, while the others are going to be content to watch, making sure the boat is stable and unrocked.
For those who don't get it, the state has been compiling numbers to measure the state's economy.
The state Labor Department just issued the gloomiest number: mass layoffs.
Here's what they say for the first quarter of 1998, the most recent figures available.
"There were 43 mass layoffs from January to March of 1998, with 2,249 workers separated from their jobs," the report said.
Of those workers laid off, 60 percent were men and 40 percent were between the ages of 30 and 44.
The relatively young weren't the only ones getting the pink slips, as those between 45 and 54 comprised roughly one-fourth of the unemployment insurance benefit claimants, according to the state.
So who took the biggest hits? The service industry, which reported 27 percent of the layoffs.
By way of comparison, the government sector layoffs were only 4.7 percent of the total.
Losing a job, especially through no fault of your own, is never a cause for rejoicing, but the government numbers show there is some health in the economy.
The government is still a growth sector. Some day our economists may actually refer to state government as the most important part of the economy.
In the good old days, when the state was still chubby around the budget, the payroll was at 61,318. That is the figure for 1995, the last budget of former Gov. John Waihee.
When Ben Cayetano took over, the state started dieting.
In 1996, for instance, the total work force was 60,909 with average wages of $28,794.
But, like all diets, the promise is sometimes more than the practice.
In December 1997, the state job count stood at 61,873 with an average yearly wage of $29,756.
There's a slight indication that job growth won't last long because the numbers for the first quarter of 1998 show 61,522 state jobs.
What all these numbers add up to is a state government that is fairly immune to the changes in the state economy. They show that while the economy can expand and contract, that while the amount of money the state takes in via taxes can shrink, the state work force remains stable.
GOVERNMENT workers are already saying their budgets have been cut, that they are working with little new equipment and few supplies.
What government has been unable to show, however, is more productivity. If case loads increase, has quality of care remained the same or gone up? With fewer workers, are more parks being tended better? And with a smaller budget, are departments announcing more accomplishments?
In reality, the message for the Legislature isn't about the economy but about developing the will to hold the state government accountable.
Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com