Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman who represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii.
Second Opinion, op/ed page, Honolulu Advertiser, 12/19/97
The Governor's Revitalization Task Force affair has been a sad one. Its members have generally been sincere dedicated people who worked hard to produce a document they could describe as "workable." However, for the most part they are people who have spent their working lives subject to Hawaii's political powers.
Thus, while their proposals may be a step in the right direction -- albeit a short, mincing one -- it might have been better had they done nothing at all. At least then we would not be fooling ourselves that their recommendations would make that much difference.
The Task Force business leaders know what has to be done but because of "political realities" they had to avoid the heart of the problem -- the power of our public worker unions. They (and we) all know that for the economy to grow again we need tax cuts -- real and deep tax cuts. We also all know that such tax cuts require spending cuts and that means a reduction in public workers.
That is not rocket science.
We presently have more public workers than when our economic stagnation started in 1992. At that time, had we instituted a 50% hiring freeze (for every two that leave, hire one), we would have today about 5,000 fewer public workers. This would have given us the same ratio of private to public workers we had in 1986. The resulting savings of about $200 million annually would have been enough to cut state income tax rates in half. However, a hiring freeze hurts union leaders since fewer union members means lower compensation for their leaders.
Such a freeze might also have helped relax the iron grip that the public worker unions have on our education system -- UPW control of building and maintenance staff and HGEA's control of school principals. These two unions -- not the teachers' union -- have been the stumbling blocks to any reform of our public education system. With continued UPW and HGEA control we will never see the implementation of real charter schools or even real SCBM school/community-based management.
Nor did the Task Force address reform of the Jones Act shipping regulations -- those restrictive shipping regulations that drive up our cost of living. Safeway officials say that shipping costs are the sole cause of the price difference between here and the Mainland. Reform opponents -- Matson and the maritime unions -- disagree. They say that shipping costs are minimal. However, if shipping costs do not cause high prices, what does? Rents are only a minor percentage of a supermarket's prices, so what else can the cause be other than high shipping costs? And if shipping is not the problem why do ship owners oppose even studying the subject? The question answers itself.
Nor did the Task Force recommend eliminating CLEAR -- the UH Center for Labor Education and Research. This taxpayer-funded nest of union organizers provides "research and training for Hawaii's unions." They produce such publications as, "A Picket Guide for Hawai'i Public Employees" available at UH for 50¢. This kind of activity is fine at union expense but at taxpayer expense it is an outrage.
Our economy will continue to stagnate until those in power, in Herman Kahn's phrase, "think through the unthinkable" and come to grips with the power of the public worker unions.
Only then will we get real tax reduction, real reform of public education, a real reduction in public workers and reform of our shipping regulations. This will begin to put our economy back on the right track.