Opening Day Remarks 2004 – Speaker of the House

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“Calvin Say Image”

Honored guests, members, ladies and gentlemen.


Aloha and welcome to the opening of the 2004 session of the Hawaii State Legislature.

For a few hours, every January, members of the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive, sit together and listen to the Opening Day remarks of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Here in this one room today is the family of leadership in the state of Hawaii.

But as the members of this family well know, we are not yet in agreement on every issue that will come before us. Already there have been harsh words exchanged in the middle of many of our debates.

Allow me today to suggest a path that we can take, a path that begins on common ground, a path on which we can move forward and start to solve the serious problems faced by the people of the state we all serve.

Hawaiians have a tradition of dealing with family challenges in the ho’oponopono. Members of the ohana set aside their ordinary concerns and work together to repair broken relationships. Through prayer, discussion and forgiveness they begin the process of healing. As a first step, the family shares its differences openly, honestly and respectfully.

It is not difficult to understand why this process is so effective. A united family is stronger than when its sons and daughters are divided. Now maybe Republicans and Democrats cannot achieve this degree of unity because in truth we do stand for different values. But I believe we can make real progress by taking some important steps toward a community that draws strength from a diversity of viewpoints:

First of all, let’s listen better and talk a little less.

Let’s put aside harsh words and cleverness for the sake of cleverness.
Let’s agree that pessimism and negative attitudes do not lead to constructive debate.

Let’s have faith in the basic decency and motivations of our political opponents.

Let’s be honest and sincere in all our dealings and affairs.

Let’s seek a common ground and not the ground of common conflict.

As the head of one part of Hawaii’s leadership family, let me share where I stand. I am deeply concerned about the health of our families and the state of our public schools. The Governor and I share these concerns. We also share a genuine concern for the financial well being of our state.

Earlier this month, Georgina Kawamura, the state’s director of Budget & Finance, set out four guiding principles for sound financial management. They are an excellent guide for all of us to follow in the days and months ahead.

Let me repeat them to you:

First, the state must learn to live within its means.

Second, the budget should have structural balance.

Third, the budget should adhere to sound budgeting principles and its presentation should be clear and simple.

Fourth, we should strive to establish fiscal stability and reduce fiscal stress.

This is sound and disciplined fiscal policy. Democrats and Republicans alike should join together in supporting it. Any family who lives on a budget knows, old habits are hard to break. Living within your means is serious business.

In the old days, politicians dealt with the problem of living within their means by raising your taxes. Today, we can say that we are beginning to move in the opposite direction.

In fact, this year marks the fifth straight year Hawaii businesses will see a decrease in the tax on business-to-business transactions. Services that were taxed at four percent in the 1990’s will be taxed at one-and-a-half percent this year, and in two more years they will be taxed at just one-half of one percent. We can truly say that the cost of doing business in Hawaii is improving.

Late last year there was talk about allowing the counties to raise taxes to pay for mass transit. Yes, we need to do something serious about traffic congestion and not just on Oahu. Traffic is becoming a big problem on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island too.

I don’t think the first answer is to raise taxes or to allow the counties to raise taxes. In fact I want to be very clear about this. The House will not approve any measures to raise taxes this year.

Government needs to become more efficient.

Government needs to be more accountable.

Government needs to live within its means.

A little over a year ago, some members of this legislative body claimed there was more than half-a-billion dollars in state government waste and mismanagement. This month, the House Finance Committee was told there is no waste and mismanagement in state government. Which account is the right one?

Let me say that the House takes very seriously its legislative mandate to investigate and closely examine all state programs. All of us should agree that efficient and effective government, with no waste and no mismanagement, is our common goal. That is how we can best address the serious concerns that face this state, by working together to improve government and not by raising taxes.

We must do a better job of shaping our priorities.

Our first priority is to our public schools.

Let me begin by making a commitment to you, Governor Lingle: By the end of this session we will approve legislation to make education reform a reality. We are not there yet, but we are getting closer.

Already there is widespread agreement that tax dollars spent on education should be targeted directly to the classroom. And we agree that local control of our schools is an important part of true reform, but we have not agreed on how best to implement local control. I am optimistic that we can come closer to our goal in the coming session.

We both agree that more decisions affecting our schools should be made at the school level. Someone sitting behind a desk in Honolulu should not decide the schedule for a school in Kona or even Haleiwa. Our communities have a right to real decision making power at the local school level.

Part of the problem that has slowed progress on local control has been the debate over local school boards. Should they be elected or appointed, should there be seven, or forty-two? How much should we pay all these new school officials? How should we deal with the unfunded federal mandates that now apply to all of our schools?

In fact we have become so obsessed with the subject of local school boards that we have ignored more important issues. We have left on the sidelines the most important people in this debate. Those people are our children and their teachers.

If we fail to provide the resources our teachers and their students need, we will never succeed in our shared objective. Too many of our schools lack the basic resources they need to get the job done. Governor, I appreciate your dedication to the cause of education reform. Education reform is my priority as well.

But in the process of achieving true educational reform we must avoid disenfranchising the very people we need to achieve it. Our public school teachers and principals are not the enemy they should be our partners in changing the system for the better. We cannot move forward using rhetoric that demonizes these people.

Our Department of Education employs people who work hard every day to make our schools better. Do we help them do better by characterizing them as faceless bureaucrats? Do we help make our system of education better by placing hiring authority in a separate department, school construction and repair in a second department and financial decision-making in still a third department?

Imagine for a moment that you are a teacher and the school system is a bus. You have been told to drive the bus safely and economically. You want to get to where you’re going. Your destination is a good school where your students can learn at their highest level of achievement.

But wait. Sitting in your bus are a dozen politicians, some experts from the Mainland, a radio commentator or two, an editorial writer for the newspaper, the president of a corporation and a few parents whose kids didn’t get very good report cards. They’re giving you advice on your driving, all at the same time.

Let’s be honest. Education today is like that school bus, a school bus with too many back-seat drivers. We give you the wheel and then everyone else tells you where you should go. Enough already.

We could go a long way to make our schools better by working together to make sure our teachers and principals have the tools they need to get the job done and then just get out of the way. Do we really believe we’ll get to where we want to go by setting up more school boards for back-seat drivers?
I don’t think so.

Let me make a prediction, more school boards will bring more bureaucracy and reduce already strained resources in our classrooms.

Teachers know students best. Our teachers share a commitment to excellence. Let me give you just three examples:

Mr. Elden Seta is the music program director at Moanalua High School. His students achieved nationwide recognition when they became the first high school orchestra ever invited to perform in Carnegie Hall.

Dewey Gottlieb teaches Advanced Placement Calculus at Pearl City High School. He has won a Presidential Award for excellence in Mathematics and Science and he is Hawaii’s first National Board Certified Teacher in mathematics.

Finally, Robert Hu from Mililani High School. Mr. Hu’s “Ohana Project” has helped thousands of young boys and girls become responsible, caring and giving citizens. He is our 2004 State Teacher of the Year.

Please join me in recognizing the outstanding spirit and dedication of all our public school teachers, and the hard work they do every day.

I also want to recognize today the hard work done by members of the House and Senate who served on the Joint Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement.
I’d like them to stand and be recognized as I call their names:

First our House Chairman, Representative Eric Hamakawa and the task force’s vice-chairman, Representative Tommy Waters, Representative Cindy Evans, Representative Bob Herkes, Representative Mike Magaoay, Representative Colleen Meyer, Representative Romy Mindo, Representative Maile Shimabukuro and Representative Bud Stonebraker.

The task force spent the past seven months listening to the community and working together with a deep commitment to help deal with the state’s ICE crisis. They spent nearly 80 hours collecting information and hearing from over 400 persons, many of them experts in the field of drug abuse. Before they started, I made a simple request, find new ways to fight the battle against ICE. The status quo is not acceptable.

Listening closely to the community, they have produced a series of recommendations that tackles the ICE crisis on multiple fronts. The voice of the community, and the decisions of its people, are at the heart of the task force report. This integrated plan will strengthen law enforcement, improve treatment services, and most importantly fund prevention programs to keep our children from falling into the deadly grip of ICE.

To those who say we are just throwing money at the problem, I would say this: It is going to take money and commitment from every part of our state to turn back this terrible epidemic.

It is also important to remember that the recommendations of the task force contain requirements for performance measurements and accountability to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on ineffective programs.

To better serve the people, accountability in government is critical. Whether we are talking about our schools or our efforts to fight ICE, accountability is the best insurance policy we have to secure good government.

We have another challenge in our state where we are making substantial progress by working together. The high price of prescription drugs is of special concern to those of our citizens who are over the age of fifty.
More than half our citizens who take prescription drugs on a regular basis say paying for those drugs presents a financial burden. Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for their medicine.

Despite being the “Health State” close to 300,000 of our friends and family in Hawaii are currently without prescription drug coverage. That’s why the members of the House, who worked so hard to pass the Hawaii Rx program in 2002, appreciate the Governor’s decision to support this legislation.

The Hawaii Rx program will create a state bulk-purchasing pool to leverage lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Hawaii is helping lead the nation in providing reasonably priced medications.

Last year I spoke about concerns on the national front and I was asked afterwards why a state official should be concerned with national issues. I spoke out because I believe what happens nationally has a deep impact on us here at home and I know that view is shared by our Congressional delegation.

We must be concerned when political considerations come before good policy on every issue from tax cuts to international trade, to global warming and our environment.

We must be concerned when record deficits threaten the future of our children.

We must be concerned when political leaders use misleading information to put our nation on a permanent war footing.

We must be concerned because the lives of our sons and daughters are at risk.

Finally today I would like to share my appreciation to the young men and women who have served our state and our nation so selflessly. No matter where we stand on the political spectrum, we should be able to recognize their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. Some of our military leaders are here today, and I would like to ask them to stand and be recognized.

But let’s also recognize the bravery, dedication to country and plain basic courage of some of Hawaii’s young servicemen and women.

Chief Warrant Officer Alan Jewett