Saturday, April 3, 1999

Increasing powers
of Board of Education

Bullet The issue: Senate President Norman Mizuguchi proposes to give the Board of Education tax powers to finance the public school system.
Bullet Our view: The proposal would fragment the state fiscal system and might increase the total tax burden.

IT'S astonishing that Senate President Norman Mizuguchi would wait until the closing weeks of the legislative session to announce a highly controversial plan to reorganize the public school system. The plan entails giving the Board of Education full authority over the Department of Education and power to raise taxes to finance the school system.

The changes would require amending the state Constitution, which would have to be approved by the voters. But at this late stage in the session, even preliminary approval should not be considered.

This would be such a drastic change from the current system that full discussion through extensive hearings should be required. There's no time left for that.Mizuguchi touts the proposal as the key to establishing accountability in the school system, which he argues is necessary to raise the quality of education. It's true that giving the Board of Education power to raise money to operate the schools would end the division of responsibility that now complicates governance of education.

But there would be a downside. Hawaii residents would be hit by another series of taxes levied by the Board of Education in addition to those imposed by the Legislature and the governor. There would be no overall state budget or tax policy, because the school system would be fiscally independent. The result would be fiscal fragmentation -- and possibly a heavier tax burden as the school board and the Legislature independently sought to raise revenue to operate their programs and competed for funding.

In some states, the schools are operated by local boards with tax powers, and this is the model Mizuguchi is following. But only Hawaii has a statewide school system. Local school boards in other states do not have the power to impose income taxes and sales taxes, as Mizuguchi proposes for the state board. They rely on the property tax.

Another way to improve accountability is to give the governor the power to appoint the school board and thereby accept responsibility for the schools. This idea has been rejected by the voters in the past, but it makes more sense than divorcing the school system from the rest of state government.


Russia on Kosovo

Bullet The issue: Russia has dispatched warships to the Kosovo area in protest against NATO attacks.
Bullet Our view: Russia retains a role as a possible mediator of a settlement.

RUSSIA has taken a high-profile stance against NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, even sending warships to the region. The roar is aimed more at domestic consumption than international confrontation. Russians can be seen embracing, with fervent nostalgia, anti-Western slogans and nationalistic politicians. However, their country's potential role as mediator should not be dismissed.

Russia's continuing reliance on the West for economic survival is paramount. With an economy smaller than that of Holland, it can ill afford to revisit the Cold War. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in protest of the then-imminent bombing of Kosovo, ordered his return to Moscow mid-flight on his way to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in Washington. But Primakov promptly went ahead with the talks upon landing, securing a promise of the needed loan.

Even Primakov, with his long history of antagonism toward the West and camaraderie with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, is not about to rattle sabers loud enough to disturb Russia's fragile condition. Opposition to the NATO actions in Serbia may hinder progress toward arms reduction, but the dispute should not cause the unraveling of existing agreements or the dusting off of the leftover Soviet nuclear arsenal.

Russia's response to the Kosovo conflict consists of plans to send seven vessels from its Black Sea fleet through the Bosporus into the Mediterranean, where it already has one intelligence-gathering ship. Still, President Boris Yeltsin has pledged to keep Russia out of the military conflict, making the response more political than military.

Russia's concern about the intervention in Serbia is understandable in view of its traditional ties to the Serbs. But at some point Russia could play an important role in reaching a settlement of the conflict and should be encouraged by NATO members to continue in that quest.


Welcome ‘Baywatch’

Bullet The issue: Hawaii tourism needs exposure through a popular television series.
Bullet Our view: 'Baywatch' should fill the bill.

THE battle to lure "Baywatch" to Hawaii had enough ups and downs to provide material for a dramatic script but the climax was upbeat -- victory for the state's efforts.

"Baywatch" promises to provide the long-running television series featuring Hawaii that has been lacking since the closing of "Magnum, P.I." and its predecessor, "Hawaii Five-O." The key to success was winning over the Teamsters Local 399 leader, Leo Reed, who represents the union truck drivers and resisted grant-ing concessions sought by the producers. Governor Cayetano and City Councilman Mufi Hannemann played major roles in clinching the deal.

As the most watched syndicated TV show in the world, "Baywatch" should be an effective promotional tool for Hawaii tourism, one that is sorely needed in this difficult economic period for the state and well worth the state's support.

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