The televised County Council Budget Committee meeting of April 25 opened my eyes as a taxpayer on the failure of legislatures to address the unfunded liabilities of the counties and state.
This meeting, with the input of state Finance Director Kalbert Young and Wes Machida, administrator of the Employees Retirement System, uncovered millions of dollars of debt the state and counties face because of not putting aside sufficient funds to pay for pensions and fringe benefits for government employees. This debt is upward of $200 million for Maui and $1 billion for the state and could take one third of our taxes at the expense of services.
According to Young and Machida, there is no quick fix but a timetable of 30 to 40 years to resolve.
In my opinion, it cannot be business as usual when growing the size of government. All options should be considered when providing services to the community, including restructure of labor agreements when needed, changing hiring practices, pursuing partnerships with the private sector for services and implementing tax reform. A model that identifies and addresses all the factors that contribute to this debt needs to be developed.
It would be prudent for Maui County to partner with the business community at large similar to what Mayor Hannibal Tavares did in the 1980s with the Maui Economic Development Board in addressing the brain drain of Maui to solve this unfunded liability obligation.