We all know each other — it’s the wonder and the woe of living in Hawaii. We understand each other’s experiences and we sympathize with one another because of our relationship to others in similar situations. Despite these relationships, our public behavior is becoming more reflective of the pursuit of selfish goals rather than our common good.

The upcoming constitutional amendment regarding state authority to tax real property has violations of our common concern on all sides. It is appalling how much starting teachers earn, but it is equally as appalling how much teachers pay out of pocket for daily supplies and necessities.

While I sympathize (and, full disclosure, my sister and dozens of my friends and family are teachers), this argument is dismissive of the efforts of nurses and doctors who subsidize patients who have insufficient insurance as well as social workers and nonprofit employees who shoulder the cost of assistance even as they help bear the weight of their clients’ trauma, to name a few.

While it is a fact (using certain statistical indicators) our teachers are the lowest paid in the nation when adjusted for the cost of living, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s Hawaii Workforce Report 2018 tells a larger story.

HSTA Teacher march to Hawaii State Capitol. Fund our Schools. 13 feb 2017

An HSTA march to Hawaii State Capitol in February 2017.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

One data set in the DBEDT report details average worker earnings for distinct industry categories. The report indicated average earnings in Hawaii for 12 of the 18 categories were below the national average. Coupled with Hawaii’s cost of living, which is at or near the top depending upon what measure you use, we have some of the lowest-paid workers across many industries.

On the other hand, opponents say the ConAm will have far reaching effects on affordable housing, increase rents, increase the cost of living and the cost of doing business. While this may be the case if implemented, there is no certainty in statements like those above.

All that is certain is that we do not know what will happen; it is no more correct, truthful or, most importantly, useful to the solution to say that the cost of doing business will go up as it is to say that this initiative will improve schools.

Committing to and marketing specific arguments narrows public discourse and changes the democratic process into a popularity contest settled in the court of public opinion. This cannot be the tactic we use to get what we want, no matter how noble or petty the cause.

Let’s Get Everyone Involved

Oversimplification collapses the space available for other stakeholders and leaves little latitude for systemic, far-reaching solutions that deal with our common struggle. The teachers’ current predicament is not tied solely to the part of the state budget dedicated to educational spending, the factor mentioned time and again is the adjustment for the cost of living.

If the cost of living is the driver, which all sides seem to agree is true, then let’s spend that money on housing instead and solve bigger problems. Local 5’s current hotel workers walkout, the ability to attract and retain talent, and even our shortage of doctors are all related to the cost of living. The profitability of businesses and the local average wage are also tangentially related through the cost of land.

To properly evaluate this proposal, ask the HSTA what improvements we can expect if we give them the money.

I’m glad we’re having this conversation, let’s just get everyone involved. Ask Hakeem Ouansafi and the Hawaii Public Housing Authority if we could do state-funded housing vouchers or subsidized housing in their new project for specialty occupations, ask the Carpenters Union if we could have apprentice carpenters build new homes at a discount for selected occupations that commit to practicing and living here, all the way up through teachers to doctors. Ask the Legislature to change the scheduling of primary subject matter committees, such as Human Services and Education, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. so people who are not lobbyists or government officials can participate in the crafting process.

Most importantly, to properly evaluate this proposal, ask the Hawaii State Teachers Association what improvements we can expect if we give them the money.

We drive to work over potholes and in traffic in our underfunded transportation system, past homeless people who are the victims of an underfunded safety net, pick up our underfunded paycheck and, if we’re lucky, make contributions to our underfunded retirements, while listening to Hawaii Public Radio talk about the state’s underfunded liabilities.

Money is not and will never be the sole answer — when did we forget that? Let’s slow down and allow us all to be part of the solution. Let us in.

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