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Wednesday, January 17, 2001

2001 Legislature

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

Opening Day Remarks
Rep. Galen Fox, House Republican Leader
21st Legislative Session


"Change for a Better Hawaii"


You have on this floor the largest group of Republicans ever to sit in the Hawaii State House. We grew with seven new representatives, the greatest increase to Republican numbers since statehood. To a person, these new representatives said they were elected by voters looking for change.

We Republicans have a responsibility to offer change. We hope the majority party also heeds the public call for change. Hawaii often seems caught up in reverence for the past, for battles fought and won long ago. But nostalgia for Governor Burns and his era should not substitute for action in the 21st Century. Hawaii has fundamental problems that demand real change. Let's get to work, let's change, and let's begin now.

Three changes can help Hawaii the most. First, change our approach to public education. Second, change Hawaii's approach to government. And third, change Hawaii's approach to the outside world.

Let's speak first about changing public education. The current system of running public education is broken. Repeatedly, the majority has sought to do away with an elected board made up of people forced to campaign either throughout Oahu or in all neighbor island counties. Board members campaign almost state-wide for a job that pays nothing. No wonder must of us can't identify Board of Education members.

In 1997, the Governor's Economic Revitalization Task Force recommended substituting county boards for this unworkable statewide board. Republicans support that recommendation, with four Oahu district boards. Shouldn't we all recognize that large school districts--and Hawaii has one of the nation's largest --just don't work?

Republicans offer two other changes to help the local school systems work better. First, we favor the Governor's proposal, made when he was Lieutenant Governor, to elevate principals to CEO status, with more autonomy and substantially higher pay. In exchange, the principals would work under limited term, performance-based contracts they negotiate with the districts. Second, we believe all secondary school students should be guaranteed their own textbooks.

Hawaii will benefit greatly from changed public education.

Second, we seek to make government smaller to provide relief from Hawaii's high cost of living. The difficulties of living here are driving relatives and friends to the mainland. During the "lost decade" of the 1990's, Hawaii sent the largest share of its population to other states.

We pay the nation's highest state and local taxes combined. These high taxes make Hawaii a less desirable place to live and invest. High taxes contribute to economic difficulties. High taxes help explain why Hawaii had the lowest growth rate of any state in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, American Friends study "Barely Making it on Your Own in Hawaii" identified taxes as a leading expense for low income working families. Our excise-based tax structure hits working people the hardest, people who have to buy food, pay rent, and sometimes lack medical coverage.

Making government smaller is the way to lower taxes. President Clinton presided over a major downsizing of the federal government in the '90s that reduced its payroll by 5 percent. At the same time, federal wages rose by 20 percent after inflation. In Hawaii, by contrast, the state payroll rose 25 percent, with no increase in state wages after inflation. Let's reduce the state payroll and raise wages for those who remain. We can make government smaller without firing anyone. Just leave 45 percent of vacancies vacant in a single year, and provide tax cuts every year.

Smaller government will allow working people to keep more of what they earn. Eliminate the excise tax on food, medical services, and rent. The tax savings will average $600 for a family of four, funds families can spend on their real needs. And as the Governor noted while talking of other tax reductions, these savings stimulate economic activity. Smaller government and tax cuts help families and boost the economy too.

Third, Republicans seek to change Hawaii's relationship to the outside world. Hawaii has too often given up its natural resources to outsiders to attract income, whether cutting down sandalwood, importing hoofed animals that tear up the environment, changing the landscape to export sugar and pineapple, or giving up beaches, reefs, and sea life in pursuit of tourism.

We would like to help Hawaii compete globally and effectively for needed investment. To do so, we should stop exploiting Hawaii's natural resources, instead making it more attractive to invest in Hawaii's people. Government's role is to help with education, and get out of the way of clean, knowledge-based industry. Look at what works elsewhere, from Silicon Valley to Boston. Look at overseas successes such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Ireland. Government/business/community cooperation works best. When the goal is wealth creation, the means to that goal is community-wide cooperation led by entrepreneurs, the private sector, and for-profit firms. Government supports, but the private sector leads.

We are government. We can change. We should support, not lead. Support with better education and smaller government creating healthier, more prosperous families. Provide environmental protection. And support a changed investment strategy that puts a healthy private sector in the lead. Make these changes and Hawaii will change, for the benefit of us all.

E-mail to City Desk

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