[ OUR OPINION ]
Stronger economy sparks
dreams for a better year
PROSPECTS appear sunny in 2004 with Hawaii emerging from a gloomy cycle of economic slumps. As a result, issues long on the table may be resolved as revenue needed to carry out solutions flows in.
The state expects a flow of revenue in the new year.
Even better would be if Hawaii's people and leaders discover inspiration and foresight to push the state beyond current boundaries of its economy and look to advance the quality of life here, to take preemptive action instead of just responding to difficulties as they occur.
The stream of money expected from military and civilian construction projects and an increase in tourism should boost the state's coffers after years when the lack of money has been cited -- with some validity -- as the reason why programs were cut and problems left to fester.
While leaders should be frugal with spending, the Democratic majority in the Legislature and Governor Lingle, a Republican, should not engage in political battles that could thwart action. Keenly aware of the elections in November, lawmakers will be tempted to play one-upmanship with the governor, who already has called on voters to reject those in the House and Senate who oppose her policies. If these games eclipse real solutions, the state will be left in a rut with the same old problems further stagnating.
The year will see renewed attention to improving public education from kindergarten to the university and on drug abuse treatment, crime and prisons, three components of a problem that plagues our population. Land use and planning for growth also may come up for examination as demand for housing and accompanying needs for highways, water supply and waste and trash disposal expand.
Hawaiian rights issues may see movement in 2004. Lobbying by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the governor and other state agencies along with negotiations by Hawaii's congressional delegation could finally bear fruit with passage of the Akaka bill.
State leaders are cheered by money anticipated from military construction and elevation of forces, but they must consider effects that may tax the environment and natural resources. They also should keep in mind that what flows from the federal government can be dammed if priorities or world events overtake present policies. Promises for spending can disappear as quickly as they are made.
Although it appears that tourists from Japan are slowly returning to the islands, SARS, fears of terrorist attacks and the Iraq war are sour reminders of the capricious nature of tourism. The state benefited when Americans, hesitant about traveling abroad, helped sustain the industry by coming here instead, but the flux in the number of visitors evince again the need to broaden our economic base.
Optimism about Hawaii's economy presents an opportunity for bold visions about where the state is headed and how it will get there. Hawaii's leaders need to excite the population, to inject a can-do ambition sorely lacking in the past. In turn, Hawaii's residents should shrug off the despondency that has suffocated aspirations and dreams. It's a brand new year. We can do better.