Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Legislators should
take some study trips

HOUSE Speaker Calvin Say sees his role in part as an educator and mentor to the 28 out of 51 members of the House who have four years or less of experience.

Say is not that old -- 47 next Monday -- but he has 22 years of House experience plus a bachelor of education degree from the University of Hawaii. Thus the educator role has some substance.

I have a suggestion I know he agrees with. It is not trivial, though some may dismiss it as such.

We taxpayers should foot the bill to send him and his members, possibly in platoons of committees, off to success areas to see how others have grappled with problems similar to those we face.

Well-organized and well-disciplined trips would be anything but the "junkets" some critics certainly would call them. Even wicked media folks might leap to this label, but should think before they do.

Perspective is immensely important to decision making. Study trips to success areas and even to failure areas can give our decision-makers a broader background to make sound decisions. A very first payoff might be to realize that we are not as alone or without doable solutions as we might think.

The speaker of the House sees that we are caught up in a global economy, not of our own making but one from which we cannot escape.

He thinks legislators should be more aware that they are both employers and businessmen, whether they like it or not.

He would like legislators to play a greater role in shaping the state's collective bargaining decisions with government employee unions. My hope is he means to win more management freedom for the state and counties.

He would like legislators to take a business owner's viewpoint in reshaping taxes and tax incentives in ways that will create more jobs. Often this can mean making Hawaii more attractive to outside investment.

He is immensely concerned about settling with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over its claims for revenue from the ceded lands that once belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy and now have become the domain of the state.

The formula first adopted in 1980 and revised in 1990 was to give 20 percent of these revenues to OHA. Twenty percent is an arbitrary but not unreasonable figure since the Admissions Act specified five public purpose uses for these revenues, one of them being to support Hawaiians, and full or part-Hawaiians make up roughly 20 percent of the population of the state.

The state now, however, is stuck with a lower court decision reading the 1990 act to give to OHA many times more revenue than the Legislature ever intended. It jeopardizes the economic viability of a government already burdened with terrible budget-balancing choices.

Speaker Say feels OHA has become the tail that is wagging the dog. He says it is taking an extreme position in negotiations with a team appointed by Governor Cayetano. He would like to see legislators in on negotiations, since they in the end will have to decide how to pay the bill.

ONE legislative trip might well be to New Zealand to see how it is settling land claims made by its Maoris, Polynesian cousins of Hawaiians. There are significant differences from our situation, but the progress is well ahead of ours and worth looking at.

Say also is concerned about how to deal with an equally hot potato: our state Supreme Court decision awarding native Hawaiians extensive rights to go on undeveloped or underdeveloped private land to exercise traditional gathering rights. No clear definitions of these rights exist as applied to specific properties. The effect is to scare off developers.

Trips to see how sovereignty has worked out for American Indian tribes might also be a useful part of a legislative travel agenda.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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