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Sunday, December 21, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Do Japan's woes make hiking GET more palatable?

By Richard Borreca

POSTED:



In "Watership Down," Richard Adams' wonderful classic novel, the protagonists are rabbits living in a warren.

When something really scary bears down on them, such as a roaring car or a vicious dog, rabbits go into tharn, a made-up word meaning frozen in place.

That's sort of where we are right now as the unfolding Japanese catastrophe continues and we are left to stare into the headlights.

The loss of life, the damaged Japanese infrastructure, the mushrooming fears of nuclear disaster all spell a crisis that someday soon is going to leave Hawaii high, dry and without Japanese tourists.

It is obvious Hawaii's economy is going to get worse before it gets better. How much worse and when it will brighten are the questions Gov. Neil Abercrombie, his administration and the legislative leaders must now quickly answer.

"It is quite clear we are going to get hit hard over the next four months," Abercrombie said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Now Abercrombie is asking for a new tax-revenue estimate from the Council on Revenues.

Asking the assembled group of economists for a prediction may give you more bad news than you want.

Just last week the council cut the growth rates by $266 million over the next two years, pulling the state deficit close to $1 billion.

Despite numbers like that, Abercrombie and House Speaker Calvin Say are asking for another estimate.

Paul Brewbaker, council chairman, said he is reluctant to turn the council into a monthly economic coffee klatch.

"Having cows before earthquake victims have found refuge, I would argue, is bad form. Experience suggests that inventing a new forecast within four or five days of a major event risk on this scale is, well, silly," Brewbaker sagely noted.

"At least, the pretense that one has the ability to do so credibly is silly," Brewbaker added.

He is right. Other economists and tourism experts say a downward dip does not indicate that Hawaii or Japan has fallen off the map.

Even Abercrombie made a similar point early this week.

"We have to be careful we don't make rash assumptions," he said. "We haven't had enough time to come up with a reasonable prescription for what might take place."

Brewbaker spent a day doing his own calculations and said Hawaii may have to drop revenue projections between another half or 1 percentage point of revenue growth, which will nudge the deficit past the $1 billion mark.

That is just Brewbaker's single opinion, not that of the entire council, but it shows a reluctance to react in panic to our ally's human tragedy.

What the crisis does do is continue to drum up a politically defensible reason for Abercrombie and the Legislature's Democratic leaders to reach for a general excise tax increase as a solution to the budget problem.

According to the governor, "We are going to have to raise even more money to get through the next four months."

Abercrombie did not respond to questions about what he meant by that, but when asked for his position on a GET increase Abercrombie said he was "flexible."

While searching for reason and not blind emotion, the state must still act.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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