The Message For Taxpayers In ’07

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 10, 2007
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It is that time in a new year when just about everyone looks back to see what taxpayers can look forward to. Personally, I don’t like looking back. What’s past is gone and one can only learn from the mistakes of the year gone by. The idea is to remember what you did wrong and don’t repeat it.

Back in the ‘90s, the management mantra was “Do more with less.” The management mantra for the 21st century seems to be “Do even more with even less.”

More and more local managers are going to feel the antagonistic forces of requests from groups in the community that want more resources, and pressure from senior staff to curb those requests and conserve those resources. It will likely be Gov. Linda Lingle’s responsibility to manifest her skills of persuasion.

A majority of the research done on the subject concludes that the most important tool to get a message across is to frame the argument or position one trying to sell. The problem is there isn’t much literature available in the way of theoretical models and practical strategies for building a solid foundation to craft a plan with guaranteed results. Sadly, in Hawaii, there is precious little how-to advice available.

An outsider would be led to believe that Hawaii is flush with cash. The tourism industry is generating wonderful numbers and has kept the local economy growing. Donald Trump came to town and sold out his luxury condo in a matter of hours, indicating the availability of a wealth of discretionary dollars.

The City and County of Honolulu has embarked on the “Largest Public Works Project In the History of Hawaii,” a rail mass transit system, after a 7-2 vote by a contentious City Council. This project will surely keep Hawaii’s economy moving in the right direction if it can be built in prompt fashion. To put the taxpayers’ minds at ease and make their pocketbooks happy, the City Council reorganized almost immediately after the favorable vote and elected one of the two council members to vote against the proposed rail system, Barbara Marshall, as its chairperson.

The state surplus is up for grabs in the upcoming legislative session. Standing patiently on the sidelines are the public unions, and the Department of Education, which always needs a new influx of revenue to fix schools, hire more teachers and improve technology in the classrooms. This revenue fight will have an additional challenge, as the Senate has a new president, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa. Simply put, no one is really sure what challenges this year’s Legislature will experience.

The governor has left for New Hampshire to talk with the inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, who also has a program to promote science in the classroom by way of his annual high school robotics competition. And since we are concerned with a innovation-based future and not one based on real estate development, this could be real important.

Of course, knowing all of this is of little help to the taxpayers. If you gauge their interest by the voter turnout in the last general election, one cannot expect the common taxpayer to revolt over the increases in taxes. The gasoline tax exemption is out and gas prices squirted upward automatically. Speeders have new laws to worry about, and booster car seats for youngsters in automobiles have been updated with new research. Banning fireworks, same sex marriage and the homeless problem are old standbys that will demand more attention in 2007.

Framing the message for the taxpayers is not going to be easy with real property taxes skyrocketing, and roads and sewers to be fixed. Ask the residents of Kailua about sewer and road repair and it will cause them to throw their hands in the air. The same thing will happen if you ask business people about the Puuola project, which appears to be competing with Kalaheo Avenue as one of the most astounding government projects in recent memory.

No, framing the message for taxpayers is advice that is tantamount to telling an insomniac that the cure for his or her problem is a good night’s sleep.

Local politics, of course, alternates between periods of division and consensus. The possibility of this coming together is what taxpayers probably hope for in 2007, even if it means doing even more with even less.

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