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Wednesday, January 17, 2001

2001 Legislature

Senate President | Senate Minority
House Speaker | House Minority
Opening Day

Opening Day Remarks
Senate President Robert Bunda
21st Legislative Session


Aloha and Welcome!

I first want to thank my colleagues for the very great privilege and challenge of being chosen to lead this State Senate. I am honored and I am humbled by your vote of confidence in me. As we open this 21st Legislative Session here in Hawaii, the world marks the beginning of the 21st century and the third millennium. This is indeed a time for great expectations and hope for the future. It is also a time of great change and great affirmation.

Change can be a very positive force in politics -- as it is in our everyday lives. It can also be a frightening thing -- sometimes uncomfortable and disorienting. However, make no mistake about this certainty…THINGS CHANGE. In order for truly effective change to take place here in the Senate, we need to work collaboratively with one another and make decisions based on fact, reason and hope.

Mahatma Gandhi said it well: "We must BE the change we wish to see in the world."
We are all mirrors of one another and the actions we take as legislators should reflect the consciousness of the people -- people who want the actions of their elected leaders to reflect what they are truly feeling. Change is the message that voters made very clear last November. Perhaps we need to change the way we listen to that message. Winston Churchill once said, "You can have 10,000 regulations and still not have respect for the law." We need to restore public confidence by our actions and take steps to restore government to its highest purpose --and that is to enact laws and resolutions that will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

For us in Hawaii, we are at the beginning of what looks like an economic recovery, but we have been warned that this could be fleeting and short-lived. No matter how small or wide the window of opportunity, we need to take advantage of it. We need to sustain and improve upon what we have in order to continue our social, economic and educational growth. We must further develop Hawaii's image as a clean, healthy and culturally attractive place that is technologically geared to do business with any part of the world.

A large part of this means changing our own government systems to make sure these reflect the latest technology and managerial skills to serve our local public and business community. I commend the administration and all it has done in the past several years to promote high-tech business development. Teaming with the University of Hawaii and the business sector, they have made enormous strides to create a climate of entrepreneurship by nurturing technology based business ventures in Hawaii. We must also strive to ensure that government is prepared with the 21st century technology and personnel skills that will enable us to serve the public properly in the new millennium.

There are those who say that our main problem is a backlog of budget items -- items that will quickly absorb whatever additional revenues there might be. There are far too many areas in need of remedial funding, not to mention funding to meet Felix-related requirements in special education, public worker contracts, long term care, school repair and maintenance, health and human services programs – and the list goes on. We need to look beyond just the money and examine chronic problems within the system. Why does a school have to wait 3 years to get air conditioning units installed? Why is it taking so long to develop a working definition of a student entitled to special services under the Felix Consent Decree? Why don&'t projects designed to reduce obviously dangerous conditions -- and save lives on our highways take priority over programs to reduce traffic congestion? Why have we failed to cover the actual cost of care to the hospitals and long term care providers who minister to our ill and elderly? Why do some of the same complaints and problems come before us again and again, year after year? Somewhere along the way, there is a dysfunction in the system. We are spending our time attempting to fix the results and not the causes. This we need to change!

We must build our current sources of revenue as we explore future sources. A more diversified tourist industry means a stronger tourism economy. If one type of visitor business declines, others should continue less affected. The Legislature did the right thing 2 years ago in establishing a tourism authority with sufficient dollars to do this type of strategic promotion. Its marketing efforts have helped establish new visitor numbers from the mainland to offset declining Asian visitors. It has shifted our focus to visitor expenditures and length of stay instead of yearly head counts, and it has sought longer term contracts for major professional sports events, particularly those that will be on national television in the winter. Obviously, we would have a better chance with several healthy segments -- so if one goes down, others keep pumping.

Eco-tourism can provide for greater diversification of our tourism industry and increased protection of our environment as well. Internationally, coral reef systems provide millions of jobs and billions of dollars each year in tourism. In Hawaii, gross revenue from the single, half-square mile coral reef reserve that is Haunauma Bay has been estimated at more than $8.6 million a year. We have the potential for developing more natural areas like Haunauma Bay that promotes tourism and protects our natural resources through preservation and conservation management. I have been working with the community in my own district for more than a year in an attempt to increase the level of protection for the marine life at Shark&'s Cove on the North Shore. While there is resistance to imposing restrictions on unlimited access to the ocean&'s resources, it will take a change in our attitude towards the protection of our environment to open our eyes to the long term benefits we can reap on all levels. The problem also exists inland where the recent closure of the Manoa Falls Trail to commercial operators is further evidence of our need for a shift in attitude towards finding the best management practices that will protect the natural beauty of our land while still allowing us to share the experience with visitors.

We should re-examine the establishment of a Port Authority for the purpose of building up our harbor facilities beyond its present limits and make them more tourist friendly. We need to support the Convention Center as the core of yet another important segment of tourism, one which needs to be cultivated and broadened as it brings many first time visitors to Hawaii. Health and wellness tourism is yet another way of capitalizing on Hawaii&'s year round climate. It invites a stronger partnership with the John Burns School of Medicine in its quest to establish itself as a premier health research and resource facility in the world.

While tourism is of vital importance to our economy, we need to continue to look at other possibilities for diversification to sustain long-term growth. Agriculture remains an important part of our economic future in spite of the loss of sugar and decline in pineapple production. We have seen steady gains in the amount of locally grown produce for both export and local consumption. Aquaculture has proven it&'s potential through significant growth over recent years and now mariculture, the seeding and harvesting of ocean stock, has shown early promise of becoming a viable industry. All of these components lend stability to our economic picture as it reduces our dependence on tourism.

Government also has to deal with certain fundamental social commitments with respect to our people and the quality of life they deserve. Primary among those beliefs has to be this: How we provide for our kupuna and chronically ill is a reflection of the respect and compassion we have for them. It is a measure of our dignity as a society – and, quite frankly, we do not measure up as well as we should. Our long term care system is fragmented and uncoordinated – a hodgepodge of separate programs that are often redundant, sometimes even at odds or in competition with one another. We need to consolidate our long term care resources and implement a seamless, completely integrated long term care continuum – one that will assure the highest quality of care, the most appropriate level of care…and a fair reimbursement for the actual cost of care. At the same time, we must do all we can to stimulate and encourage enrollment in long term care insurance plans…and shift the proportionate burden of financing away from government toward a more reasonable public-private balance. If not, the current system – already fragile -- will collapse under the weight of we, the Baby Boomers, as we progress into our golden years.

Another issue on the table is the funding of raises for our public work force. Some unions have already won pay raises via arbitration; some others are still in negotiations. We have contracts that have been agreed to, -- or do we? Funds for public worker contract agreements are absent from the Governor' budget. If we are to fund collective bargaining contracts, we will need to take it from some other existing or proposed program. Governor Cayetano is also saying that we need not fund some of these contracts because negotiators can be sent back to the bargaining table. Well…let me tell you…if we want to restore public confidence in government, we should find the means to live up to our end of the bargain.

While government needs to work at restoring public confidence in our approach to law making, the public has an obligation to support or oppose those decisions that are inconsistent with their own priorities. A good example is the value we place on our public school teachers. There is no other public employee that has as much of an impact on our children and therefore our future, as do teachers. In some cultures teachers are revered and recognized for their importance in shaping the minds and morals of the young. Why then do we fail them as a group by failing to give them adequate tools and resources to do their job? We are not talking about just salary increases but moral support in the form of advocacy from the administration, from the union and from us, those elected to carry the public&'s message to the Capitol. By a margin of two to one, the public supports a salary increase for teachers, above and beyond the State&'s offer to date. A salary increase to the teachers has more that just fiscal implications…it will be an indication of how we have prioritized our agenda for the future.

Today we have as a guest in the Chambers, an example of an outstanding teacher. A teacher whose students say he has the ability to turn complicated science concepts into lessons they can understand. Derek Minakami, a physics teacher at Kailua High School, was named the 2001 Hawaii State Teacher of the year and was recently named one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year to be announced by President Bush in April. As Derek says, it is the "people element" that is at the core of teaching. Derek, will you please stand and be recognized by the Hawaii State Senate.

Now….what do we need to do to make sure that there will be more Derek Minakamis in Hawaii&'s future? By placing the proper emphasis on the critical importance of good teachers to our public school system, all else will naturally follow. The demand for qualified special education teachers -- and the difficulty we have in recruiting them is a wake up call for us. The solutions are there. To implement them, we in the Senate need to support an agenda for change that will emerge from this legislative session.

Also of vital importance to the health and welfare of our children in school, is the condition of the schools themselves. Governor Cayetano has proposed spending fifty million dollars a year over the biennium on school repair and maintenance. On the surface, this is an impressive amount. However, our latest estimates indicate that we are facing a staggering six hundred forty million dollar backlog of repair and maintenance projects. At a rate of fifty million dollars a year, it would take us almost thirteen years to address the backlog – and that won&'t even take care of the new projects that would arise during that period.

I believe we need to make a greater commitment to providing a safe learning environment for our children. Therefore, I have proposed to the Way and Means Chair that we double the Governor&'s budgeted amount to 100 hundred million dollars a year.

Every school… in every community… across our State will benefit from this funding. And I say to my colleagues, every one of your districts will benefit from this funding. Every year, just about every Legislator says education is their highest priority. Today, I ask each of you to join me in a pledge that we will fund this one hundred million dollars a year for school repair and maintenance. To the people, I say, this is the commitment and pledge of your legislators, your Senators. Know that when the session ends, our commitment to our children&'s education will not be in doubt.

In fact -- when the session ends -- our capacity for change will have been clearly demonstrated. Only then can we hope to restore public confidence in our ability to provide the leadership they have a right to expect.

In conclusion, I would like to share a lesson I learned this year, which saved my life. I would not be standing here today if earlier this year I hadn't listened to my gut instincts, listened to my body, and then did something about it. That "something" was a quadruple coronary bypass. Thank you… Dr. Nakamura, Dr. Kobayashi, and Dr. Makino. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. Thank you for making it possible for me to be able to count on many more years with the most important people in my life…my wife Gail, my daughter Ashley, and my two sons, Robson and JR.

And so to my fellow Senators, my friends, to all of you out there, as we proceed along the path of legislative review and analysis this year, I would leave you with this same message -- pay attention when something doesn't "feel right", listen to your instincts, listen to your constituents and supporters, and then do something about it.

Mahalo and Thanks!

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