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Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Brighter economic
outlook for legislators

Bullet The issue: The Legislature opens with economic signs looking more favorable than they have in years.

Bullet Our view: The lawmakers should avoid the temptation to ease fiscal constraints too much.

FOR the first time since Ben Cayetano was elected governor, the Legislature is meeting in an atmosphere not dominated by a need for more budgetary belt-tightening. There are a number of indicators that at last Hawaii's economy is getting stronger, which should translate into more state revenue.

It would be premature to start the celebration. Hawaii's recovery, if it is real, is still at an early stage. There would be no justification for the state to go on a spending binge. But the budgetary belt could be let out a notch. Let's not spend it all on raises for public employee union members.

Having cut income taxes, resisted Cayetano's bid to increase the general excise tax but approved a reduction in the pyramiding of the excise tax, the Legislature is unlikely to entertain further major changes in the tax laws.

It should reject the governor's proposal to raise the minimum wage, which would increase the costs of small businesses struggling to survive in the still-weak economy and possibly result in fewer workers being employed.

More favorable consideration should be given to Cayetano's proposals to reform the civil service. It's important to make state and county government more flexible and efficient. To achieve that, the civil service rules must be changed to make it easier to reward good work and get rid of the shirkers. In addition, the law governing health benefits for government retirees should be tightened.

Reform is also being urged for the public school system, but what form it will take is not yet clear. One reform that is needed but unlikely to be made is to take school principals out of the government employees union.

The Legislature should re-examine the financial needs of both lower and higher education. The long period of cutting the University of Hawaii budget has left the UH severely stressed. That must end and a start made toward restoring the cuts.

The lawmakers are likely to revisit the issue of a new state prison, urgently needed to deal with overcrowding and the sending of inmates to mainland institutions.

Many legislators want the prison to be built somewhere in the state but the governor has given up on that and now proposes building on an Indian reservation in the Southwest. Building in Hawaii makes more sense, but that would require choosing a site, which the politicians have been unable to do thus far. If they fail again this year, they should give the go-ahead for building on the mainland.

IN the aftermath of the Xerox massacre, the legislators will consider strengthening the state's gun control laws. The most sensible proposal would require periodic reregistration by gun owners. However, the idea of checking the mental health of gun owners has obvious problems.

In the wake of the New Year's Eve fireworks proliferation, there will be pressure to enact tougher fireworks laws if not a total ban. This is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

Ala Wai Golf Course

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano proposes converting the Ala Wai Golf Course into a park and building a golf course at Sand Island.

Bullet Our view: There seems to be little need for a park in that area, which is close to Kapiolani Park.

GOVERNOR Cayetano wants to replace the Ala Wai Golf Course with a park and commercial activities. His plan calls for building a new golf course at Sand Island to replace the Ala Wai course.

Our question is why. Parks are vital components of a healthy city, but the golf course adjoins Honolulu's premier park complex -- Kapiolani Park, the Honolulu Zoo, the Aquarium, the Queen's Surf beach area, the Waikiki Shell, Paki Park -- even the long-neglected Natatorium.

There are tennis courts and soccer fields and an archery area at Kapiolani Park, basketball courts at Paki Park near the zoo. There are baseball fields next to the golf course on the mauka side of the Ala Wai canal.There seems scant need for additional park space -- for either active or passive recreation -- in this area.

The governor says he wants to apply the same concept as New York City's Central Park, with commercial activities, restaurants, possibly an amphitheater for concerts and a retail center developed as a tourist attraction along Kapahulu Avenue.

Waikiki shops and restaurants don't need more competition and no one could reasonably contend that there is a shortage of such services in the area. And what is the point of an amphitheater? We already have one nearby -- the Waikiki Shell.

Cayetano seems to be oblivious of the existence of the whole Kapiolani Park complex -- which in a sense is Honolulu's counterpart of Central Park. There is no reason to duplicate at the Ala Wai course what already exists at Kapiolani Park.

The Ala Wai is famous as the busiest golf course in the nation, with 176,000 rounds played in a year. It is by no means underused. It benefits nongolfers as well as golfers by providing a view of green open space between Waikiki and the mauka urban areas.

If there was an urgent need for more park space in the area, moving the golf course could be justified. But there doesn't seem to be such a need. Instead of building a new course on Sand Island, why doesn't the state spend the money on the public schools, where the need is glaringly obvious?

If the governor wants to spend money at Sand Island, he ought to renovate and maintain Sand Island State Park, which has been shamefully neglected during his administration.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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