This past Monday, we heard Gov. Neil Abercrombie's State of the State address for moving our state forward in 2012.
We appreciate that the governor finds that the state does not have to pay for debt or to balance the budget by raising taxes, especially since we are calling for no new taxes or fees and no expansion of existing taxes or fees, as residents and businesses have not recovered from the recession.
His address included investment in a number or programs that we support, such as:
* Spurring the construction industry as one avenue for improving the economy by moving forward with backlogged repair and maintenance projects to generate jobs and protect our infrastructure assets.
* Streamlining permitting processes. This is important because time equates to money, and we have neither to waste.
* Continuing to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. We thank the governor for signing the agreement with New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization to collaborate on building a first-of-its-kind, smart-grid demonstration project here, equating to a $37 million private-sector investment in advanced smart-grid technology to improve integration of variable renewable resources into the electrical grid.
* Using technology. We hope this will improve operational efficiency, lower costs, promote transparency and increase access to government. We look forward to learning more on how the $12.9 million investment in technology will net significant gains and save revenue.
* Encouraging a tax credit to better attract and further develop a film and television industry in Hawaii.
However, there were a number of glaring omissions from a business perspective. His address should have included:
* An acknowledgment that "found" money largely came from taxes on businesses and bond sales, which equate to additional debt.
* Recognition of what the business sector and its employees have endured to survive and support our government. While the governor thanked the state employees who made cuts and paid more for health care, he did not thank all the businesses and their employees who have done the same for years now. These are the people who pay for government and government employees' jobs and who often do not receive the same level of benefits themselves they end up paying for.
* An audit of the Department of Education. If we truly seek an accountable educational system, let us start with an audit of the DOE as a major step forward. Needed improvements have not been made and we now face losing $75 million in Race to the Top funds. Despite this and our poor economy, teachers still voted against ratifying a contract. Teacher accountability seems to be a sticking point, which is absurd because our children are held accountable for their performance with grades every day. It is time for transparency, responsibility at all levels and a solid accounting of educational dollars spent.
* A plan to bring down the massive $22 billion in unfunded government employee health and retirements benefits. The governor said: "We have an obligation to make a better future for our children." We agree, however, for us this means not strapping our children with debt they can ill afford. Currently, this debt equates to $25,000 owed by every man, woman and child in Hawaii.
* The most critical element - A plan to create a "pro-business" environment to strengthen and support Hawaii's businesses, including: reducing the cost of doing business, lowering the unemployment insurance tax, spurring job creation, eliminating burdensome regulations, attracting investment, improving access to capital and more. Businesses, particularly small businesses, are the true job creators and the focal point of the governor's address should have been a "pro-business" environment for economic prosperity and a better future for us all.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.