Remarks by Senate Minority Leader -Opening of Hawaii's 22nd Legislature

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Fred Hemmings Image Aloha Gov. Lingle, Lt. Gov. Aiona, Senate President Bunda, colleagues, distinguished guests, and most importantly the people of Hawaii: The sun is rising on better days in Hawaii. In November 2002 the people of this state sent a message when they elected a Republican Governor. Simply put, the people voted for change. We have a new administration that will join us in changing the course of state government. Our message to the majority party is to keep an open mind on the issues, be willing to embark in new directions, and to find new solutions to old problems. Mr. President -? there is an “outside force” that will make our proposals doable. Her name is Gov. Linda Lingle. As Republicans, we believe that in many instances there are enough laws. What we really do need is more enforcement of existing laws and most importantly, accountability. The most significant legislation this session will be the budget. We are prepared to do what we have been advocating for years, which is to reduce government spending, and turn dividends in the form of tax cuts back to the working men and women of Hawaii. The new administration is not going to be complacent about unchecked spending. In turn, the Legislature must be bold in its attempts to cut not just millions but hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget. If we are going to accomplish this we must eliminate waste, inefficiency, and the inappropriate spending that has been identified and documented by countless legislative audits. Other steps toward a more efficient state government include eliminating the duplication of services between the counties and the state. Public and private partnerships can be implemented to build public infrastructure such as schools, sports and recreational facilities. We can enhance revenues to the state by ensuring that Hawaii gets its fair share of federally funded and mandated programs. For instance our congressional delegation should more vigorously pursue federal funding that would expand support for the Felix Consent Decree mandates. This should be as important to our delegation as defense spending. We need to better serve the abused, needy, elderly and those with infirmities, such as serious mental illness. We must contract more private charitable organizations. It is well known that these organizations are most cost effective in delivering services to the vulnerable and the needy. Through efficiency and strong leadership the Lingle Administration can start reducing the state workforce through attrition. Last year, we identified 94 million dollars of funded vacant positions that were being spent elsewhere. Nothing of significance was done. Furthermore, in the area of honest state budgeting, the figure of more than three billion dollars in “special funds” makes a mockery out of the alleged budget. If a corporation did these things, those responsible would be indicted. As of December 2002, our research shows one hundred ten million dollars worth of funded vacant positions. If money is budgeted for a specific purpose, it should be spent for that purpose, not turned into a slush fund. This kind of activity is another example of why we must have an open and honest state budget. We advocate cutting vacant positions if they are not filled within a reasonable amount of time and eliminating most special funds. As Senate Republicans we are committed to no new taxes, no new fee increases, and hands off all the Hurricane Relief Fund. From this moment forward we must measure the effectiveness of government agencies not by how much they spend, but rather by their success in getting the job done. That is why we are also advocating a zero-based budgeting process. It’s all about accountability. Senate Republicans do not believe politicians should control the economy. We do believe that consumers and the businessmen and women of Hawaii should be the chief regulators and driving force behind economic development. Honest profit is not the enemy of the people; rather it is the fuel of a healthy economy. By cutting regulations, taxes, and hidden barriers to economic opportunity, we can empower the people of Hawaii to develop the economy. It is called free enterprise. Once again we are advocating completely eliminating the General Excise Tax on groceries and medical services. The sick and the hungry should not have to pay taxes to eat or see a doctor. Furthermore, we advocate a reduction in the General Excise Tax, which is currently at four per cent. The Tax Foundation of Hawaii has indicated that if the General Excise Tax rate was replaced by an across the board Retail Sales Tax rate that tax rate would have to be more than 12 percent to generate the same revenue from consumers. It is easy to see why taxes alone contribute to Hawaii’s sad reputation of being one of the most expensive places to live in the Nation. To provide economic stimulus, we are simply proposing to reduce the General Excise Tax from four per cent to three and one half percent. This will put about 200 million dollars back into the hands of all the people and businesses of Hawaii, not just a targeted few. To balance the state budget, these tax reductions will be made up of identified cuts in government spending. It can be done, it must be done. To further diversify and stimulate the economy the Republican Caucus will introduce legislation to eliminate excessive regulations such as the Public Utilities Commission’s stranglehold on transportation and energy in Hawaii. Furthermore, we must allow counties the ability to control their own destiny in water and land use by eliminating the duplicated services of the state Water and Land Use Commissions. Despite obstructions by the Department of Education and the Board of Education, we have seen the charter school movement gain momentum in marvelous ways. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce two young people who are shining examples of the tremendous good charter schools can do for Hawaii’s students. I realize that our public school system serves the needs of many, but not all. Lei and Eddie will you please stand. Lei Freed and Eddie Turk were enrolled in the public school system. They can tell you the sad tale of their truancy, failing grades, and loss of hope. But now Lei and Eddie are students of Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School. They, like so many others across this state, are a living testament to the success of charter schools. Their hopelessness has been replaced with the prospect of a bright future. Their story will warm your heart. This kind of success is why Republicans are committed to expanding the number of charter schools. We seek reliable and equal funding for these schools. The parents of Hawaii’s school children deserve a choice of how and where their children are educated. During the nineteen sixties the state of Hawaii began an alleged egalitarian statewide school system. Overwhelming evidence proves that this system has not accomplished its mission. We want to put Board of Education members and the Department of Education Offices and their resources back into the districts where the parents, teachers, and students are, we want true decentralization. We cannot just throw more money at the public education system and fool the people of Hawaii into thinking we are improving education. This is why Republicans are advocating systemic reform. Let’s make it happen! No matter what our political labels, we all want economic prosperity, better education, and an efficient and honest government. So it is not a question of what we want but rather how to make it happen. Cynics who have supported the status quo for all these years will say Republicans have not come up with anything new. Our response is that business as usual is what is not new. Our quest is to identify new solutions for old problems. With the majority party’s help we are prepared to build a healthy bipartisan system of self-governance. In the legislature we must build coalitions around issues and not around divisive party lines. Common sense does not have a political label. The sun is indeed rising on a better day. Hawaii
is no longer in the shadow of an all-powerful one party government. Your Senate Republicans know that the future can be so much better if we return the resources and control back to the people of Hawaii. Let’s work together to make this happen We are proud, we are confident and we are hopeful. Let’s get to work.