Rail, Home Rule And Daily Bread

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - April 21, 2005
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Memo to legislators before you make your deals in conference committees:

Yep, I’m the guy who wrote against the 1992 excise tax increase for rail transit. Councilwoman Rene Mansho was the swing vote that killed it.

That was then. The $2 billion project on the table that year just didn’t pencil out in our ’92 economy and the rail line was a lousy proposal.

The economy is much better now. The proposal is still lousy because we aren’t biting the bullet and building a train to Mililani and Hawaii Kai.

We can and we must. But first we need authority for the city to raise the excise tax to 5 or even 6 percent. To hell with the complaints of the real estate people. Raise the money, get federal help and build out to our major bedroom communities.

Home rule has always been a “bone of contention” here. (That 1700s phrase refers to two dogs fighting over one bone.)

Oahu is the Gathering Place of the dollars, and if they were not shared through state-controlled funding and lawmaking the smallest islands would be thirdworld outposts.

Education must remain a central government fiefdom. Our small counties’ schools would be disasters under local funding and small-town politics. The state has to be a player in highways. What small county can afford otherwise? The state has an obligation to provide hospital care where low-funded counties and private enterprise cannot or will not.

But there is plenty room for county control of water policy and land use. I know the argument that water and land are essential elements that have been controlled by a central authority since the first human colonies were established here some 1,700 years ago. We needed that through the 1960s and ’70s when growth ran wild and lawmakers were often hidden members of development enterprises.

Today, we all understand the growth problems and we know who’s on the campaign take from land-and-water developers (and we still vote some of them into office).

I’m not surprised that Gov. Lingle wants more county control of water and zoning matters. That’s her constituency.

It doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

I’m a federalist and a dedicated opponent of the rich-people’sdevelopment trend in Hawaii. Still, I’d rather see counties making decisions about land and water use. Oahu and Maui had a right to turn into ugly jumbles of concrete because citizens didn’t elect leaders who objected. Kauai has a right to turn the Hanalei River into a boating marina if the majority doesn’t protest. Neither action affects my quality of life, my land or my water on Oahu.

The state controls health, wildlife protection, forests, and our exposure to harmful plant and animal invasions. Trails, shared parks and public access. I’d never go soft on any of those.

But why is it so doggedly unreasonable unreasonable to give each island its say over how much visual blight or conversion of agricultural land each wants? What larger interest do we have on how some island uses its own water resources?

Haven’t a state land use commission and a state water commission outlived our earlier needs when the Neighbor Islands were stepchildren?

Can’t the people of Maui, Kauai and the Big Island make responsible decisions about their local quality of life?

Why does Oahu care if Hawaii County OKs a Richy Rich resort on ag land at Hokulia? Or if the Robinsons want to build hotels on Niihau? Aren’t those local issues?

Our fealty to centralism on land and water decisions says the Neighbor Islands are populated by nitwits unable to make decisions about their welfare.

Should stores have to post a notice if the bread they’re selling was previously frozen, as much of the supermarket product is?

You bet.

It’s not a matter of whether the bread quality suffers. It’s just about transparent consumer information.

Previously frozen is not fresh, no matter how sophisticated the freezing process.

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