Monday, March 8, 1999

Cultivating Hawaii’s
business image

HAWAII has a lot of work to do on its image -- its business image. Helmut Sohmen, chairman of the Pacific Basin Economic Council, says it's not that Hawaii has a bad business image in the Pacific Basin. It has no business image at all.

Rather, Hawaii's image has to do with "pineapples and golf courses, a place for weddings and honeymoons," Sohmen said in a speech here last week. "It's a question of educating people."

Sohmen's organization could help to change that situation. It's the oldest business organization in the Pacific, with more than 1,100 major corporate members from 20 countries, employing 10 million people.

The council will hold its annual general meeting here next March. That meeting will attract hundreds of corporate leaders and expose them to Hawaii's business opportunities. A change in Hawaii's business image could follow. It would help even more if the council decided to hold its annual meetings here permanently, as some of its members propose.

Hawaii's image as a place to play has long complicated efforts to lure investors here. But bringing them to Hawaii to see for themselves can change attitudes. That's why hosting an influential organization such as the Pacific Basin Economic Council can be so important.


Economic prognosis

DURING last year's election campaign, Ben Cayetano and his aides took a rosy view of the state economy, contending that recovery had begun. As evidence, Cayetano pointed to tax collections early in the fiscal year, which were running ahead of the Council on Revenues' projections.

But the council, which is comprised of independent economists, was unruffled. Now, as its members study tax collections and economic indicators to help decide whether to retain or revise their forecast of a meager 1 percent growth for the current fiscal year, they are finding little to cheer about. With four months to go, the economy is still struggling. There's no sign of recovery.

Council Chairman Michael Sklarz said, "We don't think anything has fundamentally changed in the economy. We've basically been seeing this nominal growth."

The council has forecast that tax collections for the next fiscal year will run 1.6 percent behind this year's -- hardly confirmation of Cayetano's previously optimistic view. Those comments may have helped him win re-election, but the economy is still struggling. And there seems to be little financial room to restore some of the previous budget cuts that the governor talked about.

Trust the independent economists, not self-serving political pronouncements.


Criticism of symbol

WHERE does freedom of religion end and "an establishment of religion," in the words of the First Amendment, begin? Mitchell Kahle of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church objects to the Christian symbol of a fish that state Sen. David Matsuura has placed on his office door at the state Capitol. Kahle complains that the placement of the religious symbol on the outside of Matsuura's office door violates the principle of separation of church and state. Placing the symbol inside the office would be OK, in Kahle's view.

Matsuura disagrees, considering it his right of religious expression to put up the symbol wherever he chooses.

Star-Bulletin columnist Charles Memminger points out that Kahle didn't object when five statues of the Hawaiian god Ku were installed at Fort DeRussy. Don't the statues violate the separation of church and state if Matsuura's fish does? And what about the statue of Father Damien at the Capitol?

The huge cross that used to stand at Camp Smith in Halawa clearly did amount to an establishment of religion and was properly removed. Its prominence strongly suggested that Christianity was the religion of that Marine Corps base, if not all of the armed services.

By contrast, the small symbol on Matsuura's door clearly expresses only his personal religious identification -- not the government's. Nor are the Hawaiian statues at Fort DeRussy likely to be interpreted as meaning that the Army worships the ancient Hawaiian gods. The armed services provide chaplains of various faiths for their personnel, and that doesn't violate the First Amendment either.

The First Amendment speaks of "an establishment of religion," not a separation of church and state. The terms are not synonymous. Total separation is neither required by the Constitution nor desirable.


School playgrounds

THE rage to sue is intimidating Hawaii school officials into removing playground equipment. They are afraid of lawsuits if schoolchildren are injured on the equipment. In the last three years, nine claims have been filed against elementary schools for playground injuries. Lacking funds to replace the equipment, officials are simply removing it.

Safety standards have been raised for playgrounds, and older equipment doesn't meet the new standards. So elementary school officials in three Hawaii districts, with more to come, have been discarding it.

Where does that leave the children? Kids are going to play, with or without slides, swings and jungle gyms, but they deserve those things. With state funds lacking, perhaps it's up to parents to raise the money to re-equip school playgrounds.

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