The Governor’s Empty Canoe

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 31, 2011

Poor Neil. It’s gotta be getting awfully lonely in that canoe of his.

In his recent “A New Day Status Report to the People of Hawaii,” Gov. Abercrombie found “only the far-sighted ... members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association” picking up oars and “agreeing to pay and benefit adjustments” in order to balance the state budget and prevent a huli of the canoe.

No mention of Hawaii State Teachers’ Association its leaders are looking to lawyers to keep them from drowning. And the college professors? They’re apparently content with piling the back-end pay raises of their current contract on their students through higher tuition and fees. And one of the HGEA’s units, the nurses’, has abandoned the little ship. When the governor suggested taxing retirement income during the legislative session, leaders of the local AARP chapter invoked the frailty of the aged to walk down to the water’s edge. Get in and paddle? Ha!

The sad fact is that there is no canoe, not for Abercrombie or for any of the other 49 men and women who govern states in the so-called American union. We are not a community anymore, simply a conglomeration of the selfinterested.

We all have our paid lobbyists, and we all have our paid legislators, beholden to us for the money they need to wage increasingly expensive political campaigns. They’ll fight off new taxation, protect our loopholes and defend our entitlements until ... well, until one man and a few friends paddling can no longer protect us from ourselves.

Abercrombie recognized the possibility of that in his speech, citing the enormous challenges faced by the state: an $8 billion unfunded liability for the employee retirement fund and $14 billion for government medical benefits, the soaring cost of health care for businesses and the state, Hawaii’s near total dependency on oil for its energy and overseas sources for its food, a “human capital deficit” if we fail to invest in education, and “rancor and debate in the United States Capitol” that could result in cuts in Medicaid, defense spending, and the failure of the federal government to address “its responsibility to Compact migrants.”

The governor offered his “New Day” initiatives to deal with this perfect storm. Unfortunately, like the nonexistent canoe, Abercrombie’s “New Day” sounds like old news: money for public works projects that will provided employment, “building the foundation for our next economic boom by capturing our own renewable energy and developing ultra-high speed Internet capabilities,” and “investing in our people” through Race-to-the-Top education initiatives.

The rhetoric sounded strikingly like that of Gov. Linda Lingle, particularly after the 2008 economic collapse turned boom to bust for the nation’s economy. By late 2008, Lingle and state government had no money. In 2011, neither does Abercrombie.

So what do you do when you have no money? You restructure, reorganize and shake things up. Somehow or another, by doing so, Abercrombie argued, his administration will “transform state government into an efficient and effective enterprise.”

Now that is really Linglese and Republican to the core. Government’s the only problem. Rid it of its inefficiencies, add a public relations tag, a “New Day,” say, and a canoe metaphor, and lack of money will present no problem.

There was much sobering candor in Abercrombie’s “status report,” but I fear for all of us that the governor will continue to paddle a one-man canoe.

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