Hawaii’s people have lost control of their economy, but this election campaign is a great opportunity to begin taking back control and restoring common sense to our future.
If we succeed, we can preserve what is precious about Hawaii, because a healthy, vigorous economy can pay more to protect our natural heritage and to educate our children properly. More importantly, a healthy economy will preserve compassion and the spirit of aloha because it means we are not struggling to survive, but can give and live generously.
If we stay on our current path, we will further degrade our land and sea, drive more people out of their homes and onto beaches, and say goodbye to more of our best and brightest.
To pull back from the economic brink, we must remember three things:
• Remember public education must put children’s learning first. Right now, the preferences of many adults – union leaders and members, Department of Education bureaucrats, micromanaging politicians – come before our children’s needs.
To fix that, we must vote Yes to this November’s ballot question that would change the school board into one appointed by the governor. That fixes the main reason that every major education reform effort has failed in Hawaii: Too many different bosses running the education system, each boss arguing with the others and trying to steer in a different direction. The resulting chaos and gridlock preserves the status quo.
Voting Yes on the ballot question gives education-reform power to the governor – the main person we elect on Nov. 2. He will be in charge of education and if he doesn’t put public schools on the right path, then we know who to blame when the next election comes. Right now, everyone – and, therefore, no one – is in charge.
Make no mistake, education is Hawaii’s No. 1 economic issue. Our collective future depends on an education system we can be proud of.
• Remember why we require permits and other controls. Permits ensure our homes and workplaces are built solidly and safely. The process is not supposed to exhaust an entrepreneur into giving up, confound a novice, or drive up a builder’s costs so only the affluent can afford to buy. But that is exactly what the current permit system does.
Similarly, land controls are intended to protect our special places, to maintain enough natural playgrounds for all and to create a safe haven for our unique plants and animals. The controls were never intended to preserve every unbuilt place or make development so expensive that three and four generations must live together. And the controls were never supposed to let a small faction subvert the desires of the majority.
Permitting is a rare case in which government must spend more for businesses to succeed, but the payback in extra business and tax revenue will be many times greater.
We need enough smart, well-trained people working hard to process the permits, help novice businesspeople, weed out bad applications from good, and get private-sector projects approved in weeks and months instead of years.
• Remember who pays for government: Our state government does a lot of good, but we have seen what happens when businesses falter: The government quickly runs out of money. The past two years were a time of a national and international crisis, but the way forward is very much a local choice.
Every major local industry needs to flourish, but tourism remains the engine of our economy. You may hope and dream of something else, but the reality for the foreseeable future is tourism. Live with it. Encourage it. Thank a tourist. If we want to build better schools and universities, incentivize a tech and alternative-energy industry, and protect open spaces, then tourism revenue, tourism jobs and tourism taxes will pay for much of that.
If we can remember these three crucial facts, we can revitalize our economy. If we continue to forget, we’ll keep stumbling downward. The irony is that, by crippling local businesses, we won’t preserve Hawaii, we’ll destroy it.