Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Answers to economic
woes will not be easy

They know they have to do something. They must react. But they just aren't sure how.

In the face of the catastrophic Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with the count of missing and dead around 6,500, the get-ready-for-war speech by President Bush and the ensuing fears on the stock market and the tourist industry, even the dullest politician knows there has to be a public response.

But what to do?

Even Hawaii's sharpest are hoping that they guessed right. And all are admitting that they have little more than guesses right now.

Gov. Ben Cayetano last week rightly moved to call meetings last week. Business and politics had to be addressed first because Hawaii is staring at empty beaches, deserted shops and vacant hotel lobbies.

Say what you want about high-tech and agriculture, Hawaii makes its money by getting people to visit and spend. If they aren't showing up, we are all in trouble.

The response so far has been to call together the big shots and see if they have any unified ideas.

Hawaii wants to prime the economic pump, spending money to get more money and tourists. Gov. Cayetano, after his first meeting, talked about beefing up the tourist promotion effort and then getting the construction industry geared up with more government spending.

Speaker of the House Rep. Calvin Say (D, Palolo) reports that Cayetano wants to spend an additional $550 million for construction, but there is some question as to exactly what would be built.

Say speculated that Cayetano wants to use the construction projects that were rejected by the Legislature, but that includes several items such as redoing Kakaako as an ocean center and medical school, which has not been approved as a state policy.

Say adds that Cayetano is also looking at $10 million in extra funds for tourist promotion; that money is left over in the hotel room tax fund and hasn't been allocated.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) candidly acknowledges that while everyone wants to do something, "the question is what is on the table."

He predicts that there will not be wholesale changes in Hawaii's tax laws if the Legislature goes into special session.

But, Bunda adds, if the state starts to make dramatic overtures to business, it must be balanced by giving something to workers who are laid off.

"They should give something back," Bunda says.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Aiea) says that if the state is spending money on tourist promotion, it has to be something to show visitors that Hawaii is the safest place in America.

"We have to solve the issue of safety and fear. Advertising is not going to take away the fear factor," she said.

One idea Kim came up with is to subsidize air marshals for all flights to and from Hawaii and to hire more security professionals to speed up check-in and check-out at the airports.

While not agreeing to a specific plan, Say is urging that "we think out of the box" with the tourist promotion money.

Tomorrow, the House will meet to see if it has the votes and ideas for an October special legislative session, with the Senate following with its own caucus on Tuesday.

Right now, as Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa says, "we have a commitment that something has to be done."

Hanabusa says it is time for "government to define its priorities," but it also will have to come up with some figure on how much money it is willing to spend.

Today it appears that the state policy will be to spend us out of a recession by adding some promotion funds, doubling the construction budget and making it easy to get contracts awarded.

If the tax money doesn't come in because people are losing their jobs, the state will absorb the hit by using savings we already have.

The reason no one has spelled it all out yet is because no one knows if it is enough or if it will work.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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