BY SAM SLOM – Senate President Tsutsui, Governor Abercrombie, distinguished guests and overburdened taxpayers of Hawaii, on behalf of the entire Senate Minority, Aloha!
Some people have referred to me as “The Lone Ranger” because throughout the entire United States I am the only single party Senator in a State Legislature. The Ranger may have been “lone” but he was a good guy, unafraid of the odds against him, and he was able to inspire the townspeople to join together and act for their common defense. I will strive to live up to that reputation. However, he wasn’t really alone. Even many of my majority party colleagues have been most accommodating and helpful; they understand the need for two-parties in the Legislature.
My role is to insure that Hawaii’s legislature leads in creating a strong and independent Hawaii for our future, and to make sure we are doing the best we can, with the least we can, for the benefit of all of Hawaii’s citizens.
Hawaii still enjoys two competitive philosophies within our government, and this is not dependent on the number of Republican Senators. Our philosophy emphasizes individual risk and accomplishment, lower taxes on families and small businesses, transparency in government and more economic choices for everyone.
One of the primary differences in our political philosophy is that the party I represent believes in the ability of each individual to achieve greatness without the yoke of government. Nationally, and in Hawaii, we have encouraged an entire generation to shelve their self-reliance and become government dependent. The result has been more people, even some businesses and organizations, clamoring for government subsidy. They have gone to the taxpayer well too often. Now, the well is nearly dry.
The big issues we face during this 2011 Session clearly will be The Budget, The Budget and The Budget.
We continue to be aware of our state’s severe economic challenges-many of which have been created by our own state government-and know that while there has been some positive recovery, notably in the visitor industry, we have not really turned the corner for small businesses, retailing, manufacturing, or most households. We are not inviting new investment or major private job creation to the extent we need.
Without systemic changes, we cannot improve Hawaii’s economy. Without holding ourselves to the same laws we pass, we cannot hope to make more transparent what we do behind closed doors in this building.
Expenses can be cut back in the legislature, and must be cut back, just as individuals, families and small business have been doing for years. The era of government free spending of other peoples’ income is over, though some people in Hawaii’s government remain in denial.
Our state Employees Retirement System (ERS), deemed, “the 5th worst in the U.S.,” is in trouble and under-funded by more than $7 billion. The ERS must be changed for future beneficiaries.
Our state EUTF, Employees Health Trust Fund, is likewise fiscally challenged due to decades of over generous benefits.
Our state hospital system needs annual “emergency” subsidies, as does our Medicaid programs. Our Human Services department now will operate a $2.3 billion budget. This cost is second only to education, which it will surpass in a few years.
Homelessness grows at an alarming rate without an answer to the financial and human problems. We continue to create more poverty through increased taxes, fees and regulations, then subsidize the result of legislative excess.
Hawaii continues to suffer from unfunded federal mandates that are quickly draining our treasury, while diminishing our 10th amendment sovereignty rights. It’s time to take on the inherent states rights granted in our Constitution.
Government has allowed our basic infrastructure to deteriorate, including our roads, airports, harbors, parks, sewers, and water systems, no matter how much taxpayer money we spend.
This is not just about money. It’s about leadership and discipline. It’s about setting the bar higher for our citizens to follow. It’s about the future we will leave for our children.
Lessons were learned in most other states in the 2010 elections, and the change in political climate outside of Hawaii is real and lasting. Change will come to Hawaii.
This Session, we must focus on the primary issues important to our residents- jobs, a positive business climate, the budget, meaningful education reforms and infrastructure-and not be distracted unnecessarily from our real economic problems.
Your Republican minority offers not just opposition to ill-conceived bills, or poorly drafted bills, but real alternatives. We hope to work closely together with the Majority. In the days ahead, we will detail specifics, including:
- An alternative operating balanced budget showing where cuts could and should be made while keeping our pledge for “NO NEW TAXES;”
- Public education incentives that challenge students and reward meritorious teachers without further reductions in instructional days. Throwing more dollars-$2.7 billion now- while enrollment, classroom teachers, instructional days and results decline, is not good business nor good education and MUST be changed;
- Our University of Hawaii, my Alma Mater, needs to be more independent of government micro management, so it can be a truly great university;
- Voluntary, reasonable, energy alternatives, including authorizing new, micro nuclear facilities for Hawaii;
- Passage of measures to restore political power to the people including initiative, referendum, recall and term limits; and
- The ability for all of Hawaii’s Native Hawaiians to join legislators to identify what we all need together, here in Hawaii, as opposed to the behind closed doors political drafts in Washington, D.C. of yet another Akaka Bill. Hawaiians need to be full partners and equal economic beneficiaries in an improved Hawaii.
Hawaii needs an economic jump-start, not from more government stimulus debt, but from the ideas and experience of those who create private jobs. They have offered to help us. We need to listen to them and act. We CAN do this. We must listen to the farmers, restauranteurs, those in the hospitality industry, technology innovators and the medical professionals when they specifically tell us what they need to succeed.
We celebrate and honor all of our men and women in uniform and are grateful for the military’s many contributions-not just financial-to our community.
The adversity of the current economic slowdown is a real opportunity to “right-size” government in Hawaii. Our state government has been growing exponentially faster than the private sector and the taxpayers called upon to support it. Through public workforce attrition and smart deployment of our limited resources, we can bring government to the size we can afford while protecting core services.
Our professed belief in sustainability should not be solely related to energy. We need to allow families and small businesses to sustain their standard of living by not overburdening them with more taxes and fees.
We also know we need to have both a viable economy and a pristine environment. Medical waste and other toxins in our oceans is outrageous and unacceptable. This is again a failure of government despite massive tax dollars.
Not surprisingly, there is public discontent with our State Legislature. Many believe we spend too much time on increasing our own salaries and benefits, exempting ourselves from laws we pass for others and covering up questionable ethics. The good news is we have several fresh faces, and the tools and resources, if we have the political will to change.
We are compassionate, but not at the expense of complacency of our fiscal responsibilities. Your Minority stands for the enforcement of existing laws rather than more laws. We approach this Session with enthusiasm for the opportunities that these tough times present. We believe in Hawaii’s people.
We celebrate our individual God-given liberty and our ability to change for the better. This is not a partisan issue. We can navigate a different course.
We can make that happen by a vision of what Hawaii can be. Let’s start today.
Mahalo, God Bless Hawaii and Aloha.