Some Republicans and Democrats stand out as best, but when we tried to ID the worst, business leaders were reluctant to name names
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Photo: Wes Funai
In this time of severe budget cuts, lots of people are unhappy with their state lawmakers. But for many in the Hawaii business community, the unhappiness is far more than temporary.
Local business leaders have complained for years that the Hawaii Legislature is more concerned with its own agenda – some say the agenda of unions – than with the health and welfare of the job-creating, tax-paying backbone of the economy.
“Hawaii is most difficult for small entrepreneurs due to the really excessive tax rigmarole, regulation, labor restrictions and so forth,” says one legislative observer, who has worked with and for the business community for many years. “So-called ‘big’ businesses like Monsanto are also constantly being attacked by a combination of socioecological weirdness not found elsewhere.
“Hawaii is parochial, savagely and excessively pro-union, and has a near-confiscatory streak when it comes to the idea of profit,” the observer adds.
Those feelings are no surprise to anyone who follows local politics. Hawaii Business thought that, if this atmosphere is ever to change, it would be useful to identify the best friends and worst enemies of business at the state Legislature.
We sent a questionnaire to dozen leaders of business groups, business lobbyists and other champions of local business. One essential question was: Which legislators “on balance, usually make good decisions for the business and economic health of the state?”
Frequently named by business leaders as generally the best advocates for business at the state Capitol were the six Republicans and three Democrats shown in the chart at right. Fred Hemmings and Sam Slom, the only two state senators widely praised by the business leaders we surveyed, are also the only two Republicans in the state Senate.
In followup interviews, most of the business leaders were understandably reluctant to go on the record with their opinions of the Legislature – particularly their negative opinions. None were willing to help us identify the worst lawmakers for business at the state Capitol.
Slom, wearing his hat as president of Smart Business Hawaii (formerly called Small Business Hawaii), a group that works to improve Hawaii’s business climate with a focus on small businesses, was one of the few business leaders willing to go on the record, but even he was unwilling to comment negatively about any of his colleagues in particular.
“The Legislature as a whole has done little – despite testimony from business as to what it needs – to improve and much to worsen Hawaii’s already hostile business climate,” Slom says. “It deserves an ‘F.’
“The Legislature has little concern for independent business and a lack of knowledge of the burdens that business must overcome to be successful in Hawaii.
“Unions get the bacon; business gets the rhetoric.”
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