Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Hawaii’s search for
economic solutions

ON the sports pages you have winners and losers. One of the reasons we like reading about and watching sports is because the outcome is clear. The range of possibilities does not go so high as to confuse us with intangible results.

There will be a winner and there will be a loser. We will measure them in various ways: Was the victor brave, magnanimous or a poor winner? Was the loser tenacious, classy or whining? We will count the number of wins, tally the high points and leave the court or turn off the TV assured that the score is fixed in the record books.

None of that works with politics, which is why it is the only true sport for adults. Winners and losers are in constant motion, nothing is preordained or written in a record book any more permanent than the latest press release.

Politics confuses the spectators because no referee comes up and raises the victor's arm. Rarely, some place like Orange County goes bankrupt, which is a pretty good indication somebody was fumbling the ball. But even then calamities don't make you a long-term loser.

On a national scale, Mexico was a loser three years ago, but now it is an economic winner. Japan was the winner for decades and now the record it is setting is for unemployment.

Here in Hawaii we are eight years in recession, but the same political party still wins a majority in the Legislature.

The only attention we are attracting in education is that our test scores continue to fall, while the mainland's rise, but we re-elected the incumbent governor who ran a campaign guided by the fellow who was superintendent of education for 12 years.

State leaders bill Hawaii as "the health state" while the University of Hawaii is slowly losing accreditation for the School of Public Health, despite its international reputation.

Given all that, how will we say the state is winning?

Today at the Legislature economic stasis and intellectual stagnation have set in.

Nothing Hawaii can do to pull itself out of recession -- new economic incentives, increased aid for education, glitzy recruiting trips to Hollywood or tourist-luring ad campaigns -- can be done without more money.

How can the state get more money? It can cut expenses by laying off workers, cutting services or refusing to replace retirees.

But unless the state can ready a plan to improve the productivity of the remaining workers, hacking away at the work force isn't likely to improve the state's economy.

THE state could also try selling or bartering land, but there is not as much demand for Hawaiian real estate. Also, any money made in land sales will perk up the ears of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, who are always looking for ceded lands payments.

Or the state could raise taxes. So far this has proved next to impossible. The state and the Jeremy Harris city administration are trying to get money by raising fees and licenses instead of taxes. They are looking to increasing the fees for walking in the parks, renting cars and collecting the garbage.

The only unexplored revenue raiser is gambling. Perhaps if the economy continues to drift and Hawaii's fortunes sag, the state will be forced this summer to turn to a special legislative session and a gambling or lottery initiative.

Failing some specific, real and visible action from either the governor or the Legislature in the next few months, Hawaii is likely to end the century in the loser's column.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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