Thursday, February 05, 2009


Constructing Hawaii’s handbasket

by Larry Geller

Yesterday’s Advertiser front page, taken in one glance, was an optical contradiction. Check out the two headlines:

What gives

And here is yesterday’s headline from the Star-Bulletin. Same thing. Obviously, we are in for bad times.


Tourism is reeling. Housing prices are dropping. Unemployment is up. Wall Street is betting on our failure. Is this the time to spend billions on a project that isn’t an economic stimulus and that we may not be able to pay for? “It’s huge” could refer to a huge mistake. Why now? Why place such a burden on taxpayers at this precise time, when they can afford it least?

The highway construction will not generate many new jobs. It won’t help me. What can I do, paint white lines in middle of the street? Will it help you? And what will I do until that line-painting job opens up?

Social services are being cut even before the Legislature can act, which means jobs are being cut. Those are exactly the jobs that keep money circulating in the local economy. Instead of construction, we should concentrate on getting money to all sorts of direct service providers. That money goes round and round. They buy food, they get their hair cut. They buy cars. They pay their mortgages. They operate Healthy Start (cancelled by Lingle), they make meals or do chores for elderly patients discharged from hospitals (money withheld by Lingle). They provide mental health services (drastically cut back by Lingle).

If there is federal money for roadwork or anything else, yes! Let’s get it, let’s spend it. Which leads me to what is I think are logical suggestions:

(1) We should find out what Hawaii will be getting from the Feds before we spend it. Senator Inouye is now well-positioned to let us know as soon as possible.

(2) We should not do irreparable harm to social services before we learn what money might be coming in to fund the safety net. Once social workers and others are let go, it’s hard to get them back. It seems to me that there is nothing being done by the feds for homeowners who face imminent foreclosure or bankruptcy, and at the same time Hawaii and other states are cutting their safety net out from underneath them. That’s a recipe for disaster.

It just doesn’t compute. Tourism, the engine of our economy, has fallen off drastically (as the above headlines announce), yet we’re planning to blow a wad of cash we don’t have on widening some roads? Sure, we need to do that one day, and we should have done it before, when there was a surplus.

Instead of putting all our stimulus money into asphalt and concrete, why not put much of it into social services that circulate the money locally, and sooner than construction projects can even get started? The Democratic Party Kupuna Caucus proposed just that. Their statement is here, and it suggests:

No less than twenty-five percent of a Hawaii-focused economic recovery and stimulus package be devoted to maintaining and expanding the non-profit social service sector to ensure immediate positive economic impacts and to provide the quality of life our community deserves.

Jim Shon also wrote a letter proposing more services for elder care that appeared in the Honolulu Weekly.

The Wall Street bailout did nothing for the ordinary citizen. It was perpetrated by fat cats for the benefit of fat cats.

In Hawaii, we should be sure to take care of ourselves first. I urge everyone to think for a moment about the consequences of not making our voices heard. Stay home and watch TV and while you do, the state will be picking your pocket for roadwork. Whose idea was that? Remember, Lingle met behind closed doors with top business leaders. Who was there to represent our interests?


The bent to fix economic decline by paying for more construction is counterintuitive. A lot of what led us here was overdevelopment and overbuilding. We built more stuff than we could possibly use or even need, got a lot more people working in construction than was necessary and now, when those chickens come home to roost, instead of recognizing that and starting to look at more sustainable practices, instead we pump money into supporting more of the same insanity.

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