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Thursday, September 18, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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The state’s problems of eight years ago seem relatively mild compared to now

By Richard Borreca

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You can be the judge of what it means to be nostalgic about 2003, but, really, don't you miss the simplicity of Hawaii's problems eight years ago?

Gov. Linda Lingle was just starting out as our first GOP governor in 40 years. She had just moved into the new mansion behind Washington Place, but had no furniture.

The Legislature was having a little fun with her, holding up the emergency appropriation for her office.

So eight years ago, Lingle was begging for $1 million to run her office and the lieutenant governor's operation. Starting negotiations at $500,000, Lingle and the Legislature finally compromised on $838,000.

This year Gov. Neil Abercrombie was greeted with the same surprise, but his path was eased with a quick $1.4 million hug from fellow Democrats. Everyone got their laptops and the ex-Lingle staffers also got $345,000 in unused vacation pay.

Back in 2003, Hawaii had a two-year general fund operating budget of $7.6 billion and a $152 million deficit. Today the budget is $11.6 billion in general fund expenses and the deficit is soaring to nearly $1 billion.

Back then, America had just gone to war with Iraq, a deadly respiratory disease dubbed SARS was blocking travel in Asia, and the state Council on Revenues again lowered the estimate of tax collections. Still, Lingle was optimistic. She said there was no need to raise taxes or lay off state workers, or raid the Hurricane Relief Fund and the rainy day fund. Later, of course, all those things would have to happen.

In between the mildly gray days of 2003 and the dark days of 2010, Lingle saw the state's economy bounce back with a surplus of more than $700 million. Days of more money are better than months of more deficit, but working the deficit is the bigger challenge.

Today's news is much worse. The three-pronged Japanese disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis is going to show up in Hawaii in the form of fewer visitors from Japan. The local effects of the tsunami will mean neighbor island residents will lose their hotel jobs.

In past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, sharp economic drops were a time for the governor to announce budget cutbacks, hiring freezes and travel restrictions. So far the Abercrombie administration has remained publicly silent and has not revealed how it will deal with this new financial crisis. Perhaps instead of bringing government to the people for a day, he could just leave the state's problems with a new community every week and ask for help.

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






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