Confronting Hawaii’s Economic Challenges

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‘Calvin Say is the Speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives. He gave this speech on Opening Day, Jan. 20, 2010.’

Last year, the State of Hawaii, the nation, and the world faced
an international financial meltdown unprecedented since the
Great Depression.


To prepare us for the resulting challenges, I paraphrased Martin
Luther King Jr. in my 2009 opening day speech: “The true
measure of a person is not how the person behaves in moments of
comfort and convenience, but how the person stands at times of
controversy and challenges.”

I then asked: “What is our true measure? How will we react to
the challenges of our State?”

Members, I am proud to say that we accepted and confronted those
challenges directly. We, along with the Senate and State Administration, made many extremely difficult decisions to fill a $2.1 billion dollar budget gap decisions that were very unpopular among segments of the community.

Last year, despite clear evidence of the economic downturn and
tax revenue shortfall, many parties still requested the
establishment of new programs, appropriation of more moneys, or
retention of tax credits of great costs.

Together, we withstood the criticism, pressure, and even threats of those who opposed
our actions to balance the budget. Members, last year we, along
with the Senate and State Administration, performed admirably.

This year, we again face substantial economic and budgetary
problems. The University of Hawaii Economic Research
Organization projects that the unemployment rate will increase
in 2010 while real personal income will decrease. Moreover, the
Council on Revenues has lowered its projection of general
revenues for this fiscal year to minus 2.5 per cent from minus
1.5 per cent.

The continuation of the Great Recession has
caused a state budget gap of another $1.2 billion dollars.
Last year, members, I laid upon us certain challenges.

This year, because of the recurrent budget gap, those challenges
still hold true. We must join together to resolve the budget
crisis. We must focus our priorities to do so. We must
maintain a basic safety net of social and health services for

those who have suffered through no fault of their own. We must
continue to support our public schools.

This year, I lay one new challenge upon this chamber. Let us
remember to be “unselfish” in our legislative work.

Let us work with the sole purpose of producing good policies and
legislation for the people of the State. Let us share our ideas
and, more importantly, be willing to share credit with others.

Let us work without expectation of public accolade, media
attention, or political reward. Let us be willing to compromise
and sacrifice and subordinate ourselves when necessary to
achieve positive and meaningful legislation.

Let us be respectful of and listen to our fellow members, even when they
have differing viewpoints. Let us be empathetic to our fellow
members, giving attention to their needs, vulnerabilities, and
conscience. Let us all collectively share the burden of moving
the State forward. We have the will and ability to do so.

Finally, let us put the overall public good before narrow
benefits to special interests. As I said last year:
Almost all special interest groups, whether forprofit
or nonprofit, have organized memberships with a lobbying presence at the Legislature.

Ordinary taxpayers, however, have none. They have only you and me.
Let me repeat this, for it is a precept that can easily slip the
mind during the hectic months ahead: ordinary taxpayers have
only you and me. I am confident that we will not let them down.

This year, I also lay some challenges on others involved in the
political process.

To the business, trade, labor, and nonprofit organizations that
come before the Legislature, be aware of the need for “balance”
among competing interests during these extraordinary times. We
recognize, with much sympathy, that both the private and public
sectors have already suffered due to layoffs, furloughs, pay
cuts, grant-in-aid reductions, sales decreases, business
closures, and higher taxes.

Nonetheless, the economic and budgetary problems persist, requiring more sacrifices rather than preservation of the status quo. This economic and
budgetary crisis requires a change of attitude. I understand
that you, the advocacy organizations, must lobby for your
memberships and their interests, but I challenge you to take
more of an unselfish approach. Be aware of the negative impacts
of your positions on others and consider compromises that benefit the overall good of the community. I know that your officers, representatives, and members care as much about Hawaii as we do.

To the general public, we need you to identify your priorities,
but also to be prepared for the consequences if implemented. We
cannot operate with the intent of making everyone happy and
expect to remain fiscally solvent. Instead, we must act on the
principal that government cannot be “everything to everyone”.

If you want more or better public services or facilities, be
prepared to pay for them. Conversely, if you do not want to pay
more taxes or fees, be prepared to receive less public services
or facilities. If you want more mandates on business, be
prepared for an increase in the cost of compliance, and the
resultant rise of consumer prices or decrease of business

On the other hand, if you want to deregulate
business, be prepared for diminished protection for the public health,
environment, workers, and consumers. In the end, I have much
faith in the fairness, altruism, foresight, and, most of all,
common sense of the general public. I know that their
priorities will be sound and unselfish.

Members, I am optimistic about the next year. Economic recovery
is approaching.

Many signs of improvement are apparent. Hawaii has been
selected to host the APEC Conference. Almost 700,000 airseats
will be added to the Hawaii market by various transPacific
airlines. A new company of brave entrepreneurs will continue
fresh pineapple operation on Maui.

A major entertainment company, without a previous presence in Hawaii, is proceeding
with its Ko Olina time share project. The same company will
begin filming the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie in the
State during the summer. The Hawaii seed crop industry and
bottled water industry continue to grow, two bright spots in
attracting out-of-state dollars into the economy.

Just as beneficial, local dollars are being kept in Hawaii because more
and better renewable energy projects are replacing imported
fossil fuel.

In closing, members, be reminded that the condition of our State
is not predestined nor unchangeable. Our State is not “fated”
to follow the economists’ prediction of shortterm

On the other hand, neither is our State “fated” to automatically
rebound after reaching the absolute bottom of the recession. We
can and must be active contributors towards the betterment of
the State, not merely passive observers content to watch from
the sideline.

Members, I am confident that we, along with the Senate and State
Administration and people of Hawaii, have the character,
courage, compassion, intelligence, and sense of purpose to
overcome the challenges set before us. We will realize a better
future for the State of Hawaii.

Members, friends, and you the public, let’s get to work!