Cliff Slaterís Second Opinion

The Honolulu Advertiser

June 6, 1997




Economy's stuck until ...

We will know when the political establishment is getting serious about tackling our economic problems. It will be when they cease to use minor issues to distract us from their lack of seriousness about our economy. And it will be when at least two of the following three items are up for discussion as budget cuts.

First, they consider totally defunding the University of Hawaii's Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR). The Legislature established CLEAR in 1976 "to provide labor education, research and labor-related programs to workers and their organizations." In short, it was to fund research and training for Hawaii's unions.

Its principals have all been full-time union organizers and remain active in their unions today. Dr. Puette, its Director, helped lead Hawaii's first teachers' strike. (1) He and his team have written, among others, "A Picket Guide for Hawai'i Public Employees." It is available from UH for 50¢. (2)

It is only appropriate that Hawaii's unions have this kind of research centeróbut at union expense, not that of us taxpayers. At a time when our public worker unions are bringing our economy to its knees, having taxpayers subsidize them should be unthinkable.

Second, you'll know the political establishment is really serious about our economy when it starts recommending cuts in our public education budget. Hawaii's teachers, families and taxpayers were arguably better off with the public education system we had 25 years ago. (3) Teachers were better-paid. Allowing for inflation, they were getting 20% more than today. Families were better off because the kids were doing better in school. (4) And we taxpayers were better off because, even allowing for inflation, our taxes for education were 40% less than today for the same number of students. (3) You'll know the politicians are getting serious when they start to question where all the money is going these daysósuch as all the overhead expenditures, i.e., any not made in the classroom. (5)

Third, you'll know they are really getting serious when such sacred cows as TheBus come under scrutiny. Today we have a bus system that is costing us taxpayers close to $100 million annually, about $500 for each family of four each year. (6) It was profitable when privately run only 25 years ago. (7) Then the city took it over. It has good operators but it loses vast sums each year because politically inspired policies ensure it.

Today, we are seeing bus companies all over the world turn profitable once they are cut free from politics. (8) Private operators vary the size of the vehicles they use according to need instead of one-size-fits-all. They use part-time employees during the rush hour, charge premium prices for expensive services such as Express Buses, and so on. A myriad small changes all adding up to turning TheBus into a profitable operation while improving the service. Today, when you see a conventional city bus with only a half-dozen passengers just remember that limousine service is cheaper to operate.

All these matters will require our political establishment to cut loose from their long-time Hawaii public worker union allies. As the Buddhist saying has it, they will have to bite into the iron bull. It will be very tough for them but when they finally tackle these we will finally know they have gotten serious.

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(1) See CLEAR's own faculty directory for details. It is available at:


(2) Puette, William J. A Picket Guide for Hawai'i Public Employees: Organizing a Legal Picket Line Under Chapter 89, HRS. University of Hawaii. 1997. 50¢. At: (back)

(3) Teacher salaries and the Honolulu CPI-U as reported by the Hawaii Dept. of Planning, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports higher actual salaries than DBEDT. For example, NCES shows Hawaii teachers earning 13% more in 1995 than 1990 whereas DBEDT shows only 11%. In addition, to allow for inflation NCES uses national CPI data. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Table 79 is available at: (back)

(4) Hawaii fell behind the U.S. average comparing 1974/5 with 1993/4 for combined math and verbal SAT scores. See Table 129, 1995 Digest of Education Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Education.  (back)

(5) See "Where are the teachers" (back)

Also "Why teachers get no apples" -- (back)

(6) Includes average capital outlays in addition to operating subsidies.

(7) Annual Report for 1971, Honolulu Rapid Transit Co. Ltd. See also graph of historical profit and loss at: BUS1.gif


(8) Cox, Wendell and Jean Love and Nick Newton. The Expansion of Competitive Tendering in International Urban Transport. July 1996. Revised from paper delivered at the 4th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport. Rotorua, New Zealand, July 1995. Available at:

See also Tanzer, Andrew. All aboard for privatization. Forbes Magazine. October 21, 1997.  at: