Why $574 Million Won’t Buy It All

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - February 01, 2006
| Del.icio.us

Gov. Linda Lingle delivered her fourth state-of-the-state address last week. Ed Case, 1st District Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate, sat up front among the dignitaries in the chamber, stealing some of the governor’s spotlight and nodding in agreement at her proposals.

As well he should, for it was a good speech, in the modern Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush tradition of a tour-de-force, something-for-everyone, feel-good school of oratory.

The Guv pulled out all the emotional stops: an appeal to patriotism at the outset with members of the recently returned Hawaii National Guard 29th Brigade in the gallery, a promise of election-year relief - to the tune of $285 million of the state’s $574 million revenue surplus - for the poor overburdened taxpayer, a salute to ethnic diversity as the state’s great asset and the centennial-celebrating Filipinos as this year’s diversity poster group.


But Lingle’s most important message came early in her speech. Said she: “I don’t view this session as a fight between tax relief and more money for education ... or between education and saving for a rainy day ... or between saving for a rainy day and securing our economic future through investments in new energy resources.

“I view it as a chance to literally have it all.”

Huh?

Now $574 million is a lot of money, but it isn’t anywhere near enough to “have it all.”

And if the good Guv thinks it is, I would ask her what she’s puttin’ in her tea.

The problems confronting Hawaii in 2006, despite the state’s record number of visitors and low unemployment rate, are staggering - much larger than $574 million can cover.

Let’s start with education, the area in which the state spends the biggest chunk of its money. The governor proposed a “dramatic increase of $132.5 million for K-12 public education, including $90 million in additional funds for school construction and repairs and maintenance.

“This money is on top of the $570 million already appropriated, but not yet spent by the Department of Education ... for a total of $660 million. ... (DOE Supt. Pat Hamamoto debated these numbers in the newspapers the following day.)

“Before we give the DOE a blank check, we must be certain we are getting our money’s worth for the more than $2 billion we are spending each year on K-12 operations, and $570 million already approved to construct, repair and maintain our schools.”

Yet a blank check is precisely what is needed. Public education needs big bucks, but not necessarily for well-plastered classrooms. It needs - above all else - more well-trained teachers and smaller class sizes. Significantly smaller class sizes.

Only more money will buy those.

Then there’s housing.


Lingle acknowledged the state’s housing crisis, and she noted that “there is no greater legacy we can leave our children than a home they can call their own.”

True enough, but she offered little in the way of proposals to deal with the lack of affordable homes and rentals. And proposals, radical ones, are needed soon.

Modest homes in Pearl City - Pearl City, for heaven’s sake - sold for $590,000 in the last quarter of 2005. Hawaii Kai? Try $894,000. The average cost of a single-family home in Hawaii today tops $600,000.

With home prices like that, the only diversity Hawaii will know will be ethnic, because great wealth will be a requirement of living here. The poor who serve the rich will be housed in dormitories somewhere. Government has to act.

Then there’s energy.

Lingle proposed “a bold new initiative to make Hawaii the center of America’s development of hydrogen as an alternate fuel source.”

She also endorsed, without specifics, “expanded tax incentives for people or businesses who install energy efficient appliances ... solar water heating, photovoltaics or wind energy systems.”

Well and good, but 15 other states - California, New York and Illinois among them - are proposing to deal with the biggest energy consumer of them all: the American automobile. Absent a meaningful energy policy from a national administration run by Texas oil men, these 15 states intend to set their own gas mileage requirements for vehicles sold in their states.

Since the states involved represent such large population centers, the auto industry will be forced to build more energy efficient automobiles.

Lingle said nothing about cars, save feed them 20 percent biofuels by 2020.

A good speech, well-delivered, obviously deeply felt in places with something for everyone.

But not enough for anyone.

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