Roll back government to revive Hawaii’s economy

This commentary was originally published in the May 16, 2020, edition of Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.

As the coronavirus crisis has deepened during the past two months, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has acknowledged that most of the actions taken to protect our most vulnerable citizens have been well intentioned. But that doesn’t mean we have agreed with all of them.

Some of those actions have been, and still are, a threat to our liberties, like the business closures,[1]  curfews,[2]checkpoints[3] and drones[4] on high, all restricting our privacy and freedom of movement. The police have issued thousands of warnings, hundreds of citations, and even arrested a number of people,[5] in an attempt to control Hawaii’s increasingly restless population.

Meanwhile, tourism has tanked,[6] thousands of businesses have been sidelined or destroyed, almost 250,000formerly productive workers have filed for unemployment,[7] and tax revenues have dried up,[8] leaving our state and counties looking at either massive deficits, big cuts in spending — or both.

Unfortunately, Hawaii policymakers in recent years have spent much of the state’s budgetary surplus on nonemergency items, and now it’s a struggle for them to deal with the current health and economic emergencies.[9] Obviously, our lawmakers should be cautious about spending money they don’t have, especially since it’s not clear where that money will come from.

We also need to worry about our unfunded public liabilities, which will only get worse if this recession persists.[10]

Our best hope to get our lives, businesses and communities back on track is greater economic freedom. In more mainstream quarters, the preference for bigger government has dominated the discussion, but isle policymakers should examine how shrinking government could make a difference. Roll back some of the regulations and taxes that have made it so hard to operate in Hawaii all along. They were a problem before; they are even more of a barrier now.

Ironically, some of the emergency measures proclaimed by Gov. David Ige are actually worth keeping, even after the coronavirus emergency has passed.

A perfect example was the allowing out-of-state medical professionals to practice here.[11] It was one of the most positive actions taken so far to help Hawaii residents through the crisis, and it involved removing government barriers, not enacting them.

Other emergency measures we hope will remain permanent include loosening restrictions on telehealth,[12]allowing prescriptions from out-of-state doctors and nurses,[13] and waiving licensing requirements for childcare.[14] Such measures would be beneficial to the state — and the state’s public health — long after the coronavirus danger has receded.

In terms of accountable government, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii recently joined other watchdog organizations, such as Common Cause Hawaii and the ACLU, to challenge the governor’s suspension of the state’s open-meetings and open-records laws.[15] Government transparency is critical to a healthy democracy — all the more so during a crisis when public trust is paramount.

For Hawaii to get back on its feet again, isle residents need flexibility and incentives to pursue prosperity for themselves, their families and their communities. Open, accountable government also is critical, if we are truly to be in charge of those policymakers who presume to act on our behalf.

Yes, we have been struggling in this time of adversity, but no matter what the challenges, greater economic freedom and limited, accountable government — adopted as quickly as possible — are what Hawaii needs.

[1] Kainoa Carlson, “Businesses not considered ‘essential’ close their doors and face an uncertain future,” Hawaii News Now, March 23, 2020, www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2020/03/24/local-businesses-close-their-doors-amid-county-mandate.
[2] Jon Letman, “Coronavirus in paradise: Hawaii clamps down with curfews and quarantine,” The Guardian, March 20, 2020, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/20/hawaii-coronavirus-curfew-quarantine.
[3] “Kauai continues checkpoint stops; KPD Chief promises further action if high traffic volume continues,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 2, 2020, www.staradvertiser.com/2020/04/02/breaking-news/kauai-continues-checkpoint-stops-kpd-chief-promises-further-action-if-high-traffic-volume-continues.
[4] Leila Fujimori, “Drones enlisted to enforce Honolulu’s stay-at-home orders,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 11, 2020, www.staradvertiser.com/2020/04/11/hawaii-news/drones-enlisted-to-enforce-honolulus-stay-at-home-orders.
[5] Leila Fujimori, “Honolulu police have issued more than 5,000 warnings in connection with coronavirus emergency order,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 8, 2020, www.staradvertiser.com/2020/04/08/hawaii-news/honolulu-police-have-issued-more-than-5000-warnings-in-connection-with-coronavirus-emergency-orders.
[6] “Interim Forecast Update: COVID-19 will impose significant economic impacts in Hawaii,” University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, March 10, 2020, https://uhero.hawaii.edu/interim-forecast-update:-covid-19-will-impose-significant-economic-impacts-in-hawaii.
[7] Olivia Peterkin, “DLIR opens call center as unemployment filings sail past 200,000,” Pacific Business News, April 7, 2020, www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2020/04/07/dlir-opens-call-center-as-unemployment-filings.html.
[8] Big Island Video News, “Hawaii Economy is Shut Down,” March 30, 2020, video, 6:50, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IY39Koe8Es&feature=emb_title.
[9] “Coronavirus recession could put Hawaii in $3.8 billion hole by 2025,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Feb. 25, 2020, www.grassrootinstitute.org/2020/02/coronavirus-recession-could-put-hawaii-in-3-8-billion-hole-by-2025.
[10]  Noelle Fujii-Oride, “Hawaii’s Future Liabilities are Expected to Cost $88 Billion,” Hawaii Business Magazine, Jan. 7, 2020, www.hawaiibusiness.com/how-to-pay-hawaiis-liabilities.
[11] Gov. David Ige, “ Supplementary Proclamation,” March 16, 2020, https://governor.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2003109-ATG_COVID-19-Supplementary-Proclamation-signed.pdf.
[12] Gov. David Ige, “Executive Order 20-02” March 29, 2020, p. 4, https://governor.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2003219-ATG_Executive-Order-No.-20-02-distribution-signed.pdf.
[13] Ibid, p. 2.
[14] Ibid, p. 2.
[15] “Transparency and Democracy in Times of Crisis,” letter to Gov. David Ige, mayors and lawmakers, March 31, 2020, www.grassrootinstitute.org/common-cause-hawaii-letter.

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