The Star Chamber
By the time the state legislature's session ended last month, it had considered a number of bills that impacted the business community, and on each of them the Chamber was there to represent us. On proposed legislation ranging from workers compensation to minimum wage, the Chamber typically opposed anything that could cost businesses money or impose greater regulations on them-all except for one: granting the counties the ability to raise the general excise tax for the purpose of funding mass transit. In a remarkable, surprising reversal, the Chamber's board, which had initially opposed the measure, reconsidered and voted to give it qualified support.
It was a courageous move for which the Chamber board, its chair, Christine Camp Friedman, and Jim Tollefson, the Chamber's president and CEO, should be acknowledged and applauded. To reverse course and support the bill-which does not even specify what kind of mass transit will be purchased by the increased taxes-required a leap of faith completely contrary to its traditional interests, and invited controversy and criticism, but they did so anyway to achieve a larger, common good. They recognized that mass transit is essential to Hawaii's future health and well-being, especially with respect to workforce development, and that without such a leap of faith there would be no forward progress on this critical issue; and that simply was no longer an acceptable alternative.
Business is not generally known for taking the initiative to put the interest of the common good over its own, which is what makes the Chamber's decision on HB 1309 so remarkable. As Jim Tollefson noted about that decision, "[I]t is up to the business community to think
bigger than our personal selves, and as a group, start looking towards Hawaii's future." I could not agree more. Mass transit is but one issue that needs to be addressed as we contemplate the future of our community, and there are many other critical issues we must similarly address that will determine the Hawaii our children and grandchildren inherit. Unless we are prepared to compromise some of our own parochial interests for the common good, we will have a much more difficult time getting to that future.
Since it is unlikely that I will be around when those next 50 icons are selected, I thought I would put my two cents in now. Frankly, my hope is that the Chamber's decision to support HB 1309 is soon forgotten from being overtaken by many greater acts of service by business to the common good; but in the meantime, it's got my vote.
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