This week was marked by our first series on a serious matter of public importance.

On the Hook told the story of the unfunded liability for pensions and health-care costs for state and county retirees.

No easy topic.

Our money reporter Noelle Chun worked long and hard to explain the health of the Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System and contributor Greg Wiles, a veteran financial writer, did the same with the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund.

Here are the key articles and topic pages in the series:

Civil Beat is committed to this kind of deep reporting about complex issues. We think it’s critical that when we’re evaluating public policy decisions today, we as a community have a clear view of what the potential impact of our decisions might be in the future, and that we understand the obligations we are already burdened with from earlier decisions.

I worry that young people in the workforce today have been saddled with the irresponsible decisions of previous generations of leaders. I hope you’ll explore these articles and come to your own conclusion.

A Bad Lesson From UH

A good example of teaching one generation about how to handle financial affairs responsibly came this week when the University of Hawaii regents approved a $50 athletic fee to put the athletic department in the black. What the fee didn’t address is the $10 million the department owes the university because it’s been running in the red over the past decade. That money could have been used for academics, at a time when the university is squealing over cuts.

We know what students are told about student loans: You’re responsible for paying them back.

But what message did the university send to students this week? A different standard applies to the athletic department than applies to them.

That’s what our Robert Brown revealed in his article, UH Manoa Athletic Department: What $10 Million?. His is another example of the kind of reporting we aspire to, going beyond the obvious (every news organization in town reported the fee hike ad nauseam) and asking tough questions.

Brouhaha Over Request to Governor Candidates

Sometimes the answers we receive can be disappointing.

That was the case when Land Reporter-host Michael Levine asked the three governor candidates to show him how they lived the sustainability principles they espouse. The first to respond was a spokeswoman for former Congressman Neil Abercrombie, who basically said, “No, thanks.” Mike wrote about the issue, How Green is Abercrombie? He Won’t Show, and a lively discussion has ensued.

I’m a big believer that we should examine what candidates do, not just what they say. That’s why we asked for personal information on water use, electric use, etc. An old adage in journalism is, “If your mother tells you that she loves you, check it out.” I think that applies to political candidates.

Rail Questions

Finally, this week I shared my experience driving part of the route of the proposed rail line through downtown with uber-opponent Cliff Slater, “Rail Is So Ridiculous”. A member, Dave Kozuki, commented: “Please help us really understand each of the contention points, who’s behind the arguments and why they put those arguments forward.” I thought that was a great suggestion and posted my own request: Rail Debate is On — Now it’s Your Turn. What Dave is proposing is exactly what we’re trying to do at Civil Beat: do the research and heavy lifting that enables you to make sense of difficult issues like rail.

I hope you’ll let me know the tough questions about the rail project you’d like answered.

Next week we’ll bring you another two-day series, this time about an important renewable energy project known as Big Wind.

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