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Choosing a New Day

April 21, 2011
Maui Weekly

So, for everyone in Hawai‘i, we have some big decisions to make and we need to make them now.

Do we want to have good jobs, good housing, and strong communities? Do we want our children to be able to live in Hawai‘i and pursue their dreams here in the islands? Of course we do. But if we want these things, we have to make sure that the university system is thriving, not barely getting by. We need to get more money churning in the economy to help the private and public sectors recover and create better paying jobs with career paths. We need to invest in and promote industries to a much greater degree.

Do we want our children to have a brighter future than we have? If we do, we will need to provide basic preschool opportunities, restore programs for our most vulnerable keiki, and invest in our public schools. The items in our budget—like making improvements to our school facilities so they can accommodate new technologies—are not nearly enough, but it’s a start we cannot neglect. We will continue making the best use of the resources we have.

Do we want more locally owned businesses that can create jobs and dollars for our economy? If we do, we need to build our information infrastructure, streamline government processes, provide the community-based business assistance to make sure that our entrepreneurs get every opportunity to compete and succeed. We need adequate state personnel to facilitate and support these efforts.

Do we want to produce our own energy instead of exporting billions of dollars to unstable, oil-rich countries? Do we want to use those dollars to pay our own solar installers, biofuel farmers, geothermal engineers and wind energy technicians? If we do, then we need to connect the islands, accelerate the transition to clean energy with the right incentives, and build functioning regulatory agencies so projects aren’t stuck in paper and process.

Do we want to grow our own healthy food instead of being so dependent on multi-national food conglomerates, and food and fuel grown and produced in developing countries? If we do, we’ll need to repair our irrigation systems and invest in agricultural research and education. Reinstating eliminated agricultural inspectors is a step in the right direction, but that step alone won’t get us there—not even close.

Do we want Hawai‘i to belong to all people and not just the wealthiest few? If so, then we need to break cycles of poverty, which we cannot do if we are only willing to see our people have just the basic minimum assistance they need to get to the next day. We need to provide training, opportunity, and services so families can become self-sufficient.

In these challenging times, everyone—including the public sector—is going to do more with less. Public employees are already working harder and smarter, engaging volunteers, creating new partnerships, seeking federal and other funds. We will keep doing these things, but these things alone won’t get us where we need to be.

If we really want all this for Hawai‘i, then we are going to have to pay for them. We’re going to have to address long-term liabilities we’ve ignored; we’re going to have to repair the infrastructure that we’ve let deteriorate; and we’re going to have to reorganize government and invest in its capacity to do the people’s business.

I don’t believe our public schools, housing, jobs, parks, airports, harbors, business environment, technology, or culture and arts programs are good enough as they stand today. And the people of Hawai‘i don’t think so either. That’s why they voted for a New Day.

We must commit ourselves 100 percent to solve our fiscal crisis and focus on economic growth. If we pass a plan with sufficient new tax revenues that commits everyone to do their fair share, we can be thriving in two years, maybe less. If we don’t commit entirely—if we choose instead to nickel and dime ourselves—our recovery will stall or even recede.

And if we do nothing—if we decide to just get by and stand still for yet another year—then not only will nothing change, but we risk sinking further into pessimism and civic decline.

We do not have to settle for the status quo. We cannot get bogged down by the petty political story of the day. We can’t be stuck in the weeds, bickering over one detail or another, pointing fingers at each other.



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