4/29 LEGITIMATE VERSUS ILLEGITIMATE LEGISLATIVE OPPORTUNITIES DURING A BUDGET CRISIS: Increasing Revenue versus Cutting Costs
When confronted with a crisis, one should nevertheless consider possible courses of action that are positive -or not so bad all things considered. (And don't just stoop to pointing blame or using the crisis situation to usurp power at the expense of others.)
So now that the State's and the Counties' revenues are sharply down, should the State and Counties simply cut cut cut programs deeper and deeper, and cut and furlough government workers -- many of whom are now also shouldering the work of positions that are already vacant? Certainly that is exactly what is, for the most part, going on here in Hawaii, and it is exactly what President Obama warned will only lead to more bad news. So, in the context of this economic downturn, let's take a few minutes to brainstorm ways to minimize the adverse impact on the average Big Island resident. NOw mind you these are just rough ideas, but it is an attempt to change the discussion from which valuable programs shall we eliminate next, to how can we increase the size of the revenue pizza, so that with some shared sacrifice we can guide our island canoe through these turbulent economic waters:
1. INSTITUTE REVENUE GENERATING INITIATIVES, that is, programs that will not cost the State or Counties anything, but will bring in needed revenue, for example:
a. immediately enact HB444 (legalize Civil Unions) which would result in an immediate “civil union wedding” tourism boom;
b. immediately enact a reasonable malpractice insurance cap to help keep medical costs down (rather than catering to the trial attorneys who oppose any cap);
c. consider authoizing form of gaming (non-casino gambling) such as high stakes bingo – with social and environmental requirements: Perhaps lease the Superferry and anchor it off island as the site for these operations. And by doing so, thereby decrease the likelihood that the Superferry owners will bring a lawsuit against the State for breach of whatever agreements were signed in the past); contact John Baldwin owner of Bridge Aina Lea – he is knowledge and has experience setting up gaming facilities in this area; (but do not allow more socially destructive forms of casino gambling);
e. focus more on peace initiatives than increasing military preparedness here in Hawaii: for example start peace camps on Hawaii island and invite participants from around the world, including from the middle east;
f. to the extent that the military presence continues to increase, require that the military pay fairly for use of our land and precious resources, in other words, no more $1. leases of government land;
g. insist that the military provide more infrastructure support for example require that the military to build a monorail from Kawaihae to Hilo which would allow for access to military sites. Note when military needs to use, public use could be restricted. There could also be an off-shoot to the airport;
h. put together a digest of all of the many grants available to the state, counties, non-profit organizations, and private non-governmental entities; Contact entities that might qualify for the grants and assist them in obtaining the funds (see how these programs can supplement the services offered by the state and counties and reduce government costs to provide needed services;
i. institute across the board volunteer services in each department to supplement current operations -- including a mentoring program in all schools.
2. ENACT MORE FARSIGHTED REVENUE TAX PROGRAMS:
a. decrease preferential tax credits that do not work long term (and most do not work);
b. pass a tax on the rezoning of agricultural land – hey we are supposed to be preserving this land anyway per our State and Gounty General Plans: keep in mind that rezoning is just a paperwork reclassification of property that does not require the property be developed within a particular time): why should some out-of state party reap all of the increased value at the expense of current resident taxpayers);
c. pass inheritance tax for high end estates (had this been done before the billion dollar Campbell estate was distributed, the State would not be in such a financial pickle (guess we did not want to offend our Campbell family cronies);
d. eliminate child credit income tax exemptions: in fact if anything there should be additional taxes imposed for each child: we are not in an age when encouraging parents to have more children is socially good, in fact, in the context of the increasing peril of our planet from global warming, overpopulation is the single most harmful phenomena that must be addressed.
e. raise highend conveyance taxes to a reasonable degree (as being proposed);
f. if in the short term it is necessary to raise some other tax, say the TAT tax, do so for only the coming year, so that the impact and need can be evaluated on an annual basis;
g. re-evaluate how the determination is made as to who qualifies for benefits as an “employee”; in fact get rid of the “employee” versus “contractor” distinction and get rid of the arbitrary 20 hour a week rule – thereby increasing greatly the number of business owners who pay into these funds (including for health benefits); at the same time stream line how these taxes and benefits are paid so that the burden is on the government entity to disburse a single calculation payment -- rather than businesses having to make the many calculations and payments and reports. For example, require that any business hiring someone to work at its location, or at its direction wherever located, would owe towards this fund regardless of how many hours the person works or whether he uses his own tools;
h. enact fair impact fees for all developments to counter the development’s impact on public facilities and infrastructure;
i. require that developers pay a reasonable fee for the engineering and planning services that are provided when subdivisions, planned unit developments and commercial or industrial facilities are proposed..
3. REDUCE LABOR COSTS WITHOUT GUTTING LABOR CONTRACTS:
a. stop talking “hiring freeze” and “unfunded current positions” and instead use this time to re-evaluate what positions are really needed and what are not, and act accordingly;
b. furloughing: start with voluntary furloughs by work units before considering whether mandatory furloughs may be required at some future date;
c. work with the unions as much as possible and target excesses – replace overtime with flexi-time schedules; eliminate payments for unused vacation or sick time; get rid of any “bumping” policies that are anti-productive (e.g. where those less qualified can "bump" a position based on seniority (seniority yes but only if equally qualified);
d. cutting jobs is the least advantageous, given the amount of unemployment and other benefits that would still have to be paid –and the loss of those services for the public; if some job needs to be cut, provide training for that employee so they can relocated;
e. designate locations of jobs, so that the employee must stay at that same location for some period of time (so that they are not hired in one located and then as soon as opening some place else, they can be transferred to the other location.
4. SUSTAINABILITY EVALUATION: FOCUS ON LONG TERM PROSPERITY (NOT JUST (SHORT TERM) ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
Take a look at each business segment and evaluate based on principles of sustainability and (Hawaii) self-sufficiency. Start with tourism:
a Confront the changing face of tourism, which is no longer primarily a two dimensional “sightseeing” phenomena. Traveling just to “sightsee” is generally no longer sufficient justification to spend limited income: “tourism” needs to provide multifaceted experiences: emphasize wellness educational and volunteer components, especially nature based objectives: eco-tourism, agri-tourism, fitness tourism (such as running, biking, and hiking) and adventure tourism generally. These are the segments of the tourist industry that are currently outperforming other segments. therefore put money into assets that make these objectives more possible e.g. a bike trail all around Hawaii island, and ALSO design mini-circuit trails and bike paths mini-circuits (e.g. from the Kohala resorts to Kawaihae to Hawi to Waimea -along Mountain Road- and then back to resorts). Note that most counties invest funds into areas that attract tourism, but instead what is more often the tourism plan in Hawaii is to travel to the other Counties to encourage "tourism" from there: that approach is far less successful;
b. change the zoning restrictions on agricultural lands to allow for low cost barracks- hostel housing (no stove or refrigerator in individual units);
b. promote business and educational conferences for all possible sectors, that combine education with daily tourism opportunities (conference programs should end by 2:30 pm): we need to be on the "cutting edge" of eco-tourism and sustainability efforts: shouldn't Hawaii be the top international eco-tourism site, rather than Laos?;
c. do a ‘stay an extra (volunteer) day” program – as is the practice in Laos, and provide ecological and social volunteer opportunities for tourists who are willing to stay and extra day. (work with the airlines to promote and minimize added ticket costs for those who participate.
d. ask every resident to invite 3 or more non-residents to visit them this year and share your visitors with local restaurants, hotels and tourism enterprises.
5. END THE "GOOD 'OL BOY" DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL PROCESS: Grow-up and handle development approvals consistent with the rules and not according to Hawaii’s entrenched “good 'ol boy” way of doing business: development conditions should be more straightforward requirements of doing business, not loaded with ambiguous exceptions that more often delay the process: if we can't figure this one out, then don’t complain when the Courts do not accept the undue accommodation of a particular developer, such as occurred in the case of 1259 Oceansides (Hokulia) or the Superferry.
Anyway those are some ideas to consider, rather than pitting one valuable programs against another. M. Wille
^A melodious thrush and some other residents from Waimea