The 2012 legislative session may have ended this week, but our work is not over.
Why? Because we still have big issues to solve.
This session, the Maui Chamber of Commerce called on state lawmakers to create an environment where businesses can grow, asking them to address our Hawaii 5.0 top priorities:
1. Have the state live within its means, prioritizing expenses and paring back to what it can afford. Saying "No" to new taxes or a general excise tax increase.
2. Create a state debt reduction plan to address the approximately $22 billion-plus unfunded pension and health benefits liability.
3. Improve our educational system, starting with an audit of the Department of Education.
4. Create a business-friendly environment by reducing costs, including lowering the unemployment insurance tax and not passing further workplace mandates.
5. Spur economic growth by capturing opportunities that can deliver significant economic returns.
Where are we?
1. Live within our means: We still have an $11.2 billion budget and high level of debt. The good news is we did not have to fight off a general excise tax increase this year.
2. Create a state debt reduction plan: This did not happen. Instead, we kicked the can down the road by having state employees contribute more into their pension funds. Unfortunately, this will not take care of the problem because the debt is too high and we are still promising far more than we can afford.
3. Improve our educational system: No real progress on this and no audit. The state is in jeopardy of losing $75 million in Race to the Top federal funds for a number of reasons, including delayed performance and lack of an educator evaluation program. The teachers union fought legislation to create a performance-based teacher evaluation system, bringing the House and Senate to recommit their bills under pressure, and halting the performance-based requirement. The teachers also voted against Gov. Neil Abercrombie's contract settlement. However, the teachers union is now encouraging members to reconsider this settlement. Stay tuned.
4. Create a business-friendly environment: Bills continue to be introduced that add further mandates and/or increase the cost of doing business. Such bills do not address the negative impact on businesses or provide a fair and balanced rationale to justify their drafting. It is not new, but must change. Proposed legislation that affects businesses should include a business impact statement when drafted and should not move forward without one. It would certainly save businesses and lawmakers a lot of time and energy.
5. Spur economic growth: We support incentives to attract desired industry. While the proposed tax incentives to draw more film and television production stalled, we are awaiting news on other incentives. States compete for desired industry and more needs to be done here to diversify our economic base and provide new and rewarding job opportunities.
In terms of how the business sector fared this session, it may be a matter of perspective. Some are frustrated to have to fight anti-business legislation to begin with, while others are glad to know that the major bills we opposed did not move forward. However, a number of bills we thought would help improve the economy also died.
We cannot lose sight of the reality that broken systems still exist, we must address the debt level, and we still have a high cost of doing business. The Maui Chamber of Commerce will continue to be vigilant, helping lawmakers understand the business and economic challenges we face and working toward a pro-business environment in Hawaii.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.