Thursday, November 22, 2001

Share the bounty
so all can give thanks

The shadow of that September day assigns profound resonance to this Thanksgiving. The sense of entitlement and invulnerability, the carelessness with which we lived was supplanted by destruction and loss.

So it is on this day of thanks that we may seek to return to the pith of grace by giving. On this day when the more fortunate celebrate bounty, many will go hungry as they did yesterday and will tomorrow. One in five Hawaii residents, nearly 63,000 of them children, live in households where food is limited or supply uncertain, according to the state Department of Health. While some will choose between turkey or ham, pecan or pumpkin pie, the choice for 44 percent in Hawaii will be for food or rent or the electric bill.

Food service agencies, like the Hawaii Foodbank and the Salvation Army, are overwhelmed by demand that has increased as much as 15 percent as people lose their jobs, find their work shifts cut or are booted from welfare rolls.

Hunger in a nation of plenty is an embarrassment, a problem too long ignored. Government, however, cannot be the single point for help, evidenced by absurdity of food drops for the people of Afghanistan. Ostensibly for humanitarian rather than propaganda purposes, the drops have been suspended while Pentagon officials debate the color of the food packaging because the current yellow is deemed too similar to the color of unexploded bombs.

Meanwhile, Congress squabbles about increasing food stamp aid, House Republicans choose tax credits for IBM and other big corporations over unemployment benefits and Democrats in the Senate pack their economic relief bill with political pork.

It is left to individual citizens, then, to discover a generosity, even as many trim their own household budgets as a hedge in uncertain times. It doesn't take much. A small check, a few cans of beans or a bag of rice will do.

The sharing may extend a familial sense as clans gather to partake of the holiday meal. The losses suffered in September's darkness may dissipate in the favoring of others with charity.

In declaring the first in the unbroken series of this modern holiday tradition, President Lincoln in November 1863 proclaimed: "The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies ... It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people."

So be it.

State faces tough
problems, solutions

The issue: A revenue shortfall
has government leaders hunting
for ways to cut operating costs

Facing a projected decline of nearly $160 million in revenues, Governor Cayetano and state lawmakers find themselves between a budgetary rock and hard place. The options -- layoffs of state workers, furloughs, trimming the cost of government operations, pay cuts and the tempting tapping of the Hurricane Relief Fund -- however onerous, must all be examined.

As he did with the state's economic crisis, the governor should open the discussion to all comers, including business leaders, government union workers and the public because everyone will be affected by whatever decisions are made. Further, Cayetano and the state Legislature should seize the opportunity to take a hard look at state functions with an eye toward a general overhaul. Leaner doesn't have to be meaner, just more efficient.

One segment of the state budget that should remain immune from cuts is education. For the first time in his administration, the governor is considering reducing costs at the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii. Education, however, is an investment in Hawaii's future. In view of poor performances of students in public schools -- the latest example being the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress report, which showed that Hawaii students' science test scores are among the lowest in the nation -- the DOE cannot offer the state's children fewer resources. At UH, President Evan Dobelle is about to embark on various programs to pull the institution from mediocrity with initiatives to tie economic development with the university's curriculum. Budget cuts could hamper his momentum.

The state government's work force has been a provocative target for less-government advocates, but layoffs at this time would worsen Hawaii's unemployment problems, with the jobless rate already at 5.2 percent -- the highest it has been in two years. Government worker unions, certainly aware that their payrolls total a big chunk of state funds and of the view that their political power at times has skewed public priorities, may be open to discussions about rollbacks or wage freezes for the time being. Legislative leaders and Cayetano should seek their opinions and appeal to their sense of fairness.

Dipping into the state's hurricane fund is tempting, but how far the $213 million would go is questionable and, in the long run, its depletion may prove to be a mistake should nature again wreak havoc on the islands.

The state's money troubles will likely be lasting and officials will find no easy answers. The key would be to think big, not to tweak and pinch, but adapt to the new economic conditions and emerge from this current crisis better able to weather future difficulties.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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