The Opening Day Speech That Never Was - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Gene Ward

Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai) is co-chair of the House Small Business Caucus.

There was no “Aloha Mai Kakou, Aloha!” to be heard on Opening Day at the Hawaii State Capitol this year. Speaker Scott Saiki had locked down the state House’s 2021 Opening Day Ceremony to only include the swearing-in of legislators.

He rightly decided there would be no festivities, entertainment, food or any merry-making at the Capitol on Wednesday.

However, he wrongly decided that there would be no Opening Day addresses or speeches by key leaders and in the House chamber. That’s the reason for this article.

The people of Hawaii deserve to know what is on the horizon from their legislators. They need to know the thinking and reasoning behind where our state’s ship is going.

If nothing else, Opening Day speeches suggest the issues that will be prioritized and the vision with which it is encased. This is an obligation of the majority party and it is unfair to the citizens of this state to not hear the priorities of the House and Senate.

Rep Gene Ward gestures on the floor Capitol. 3 may 2016.
Rep. Gene Ward speaking on the House floor in 2016. Because of COVID-19, the traditional opening-day session was heavily scaled back. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The need to know has never been greater than now. With a pandemic raging as badly as our deficit spending, leadership must cast a vision on how we go from a dismal 2020 and face forward, looking the public in the eye with a $6 billion deficit over the next four years.

This is not a time to be shy to speak out about what our priorities are for 2021. For example, the Minority Caucus is working on prioritizing four major concerns:

Ending The Pandemic

This can be done through fast and efficient vaccinations of first responders and health workers and then our kupuna and then down the age column. We also see promise in creating Hawaii’s first pharmaceutical industry by adopting the new rapid COVID-19 saliva test developed by Hawaii’s own, Oceanit and Dr. Patrick Sullivan.

At a cost of just $20 per test with results in 10 minutes, we can assure our teachers that they are safe in the classroom and our workers are safe in their workplaces by ‘bubble testing’ various groups and clusters, particularly arriving outsiders.

Opening Our Economy

Our second priority is not an option but a must. We need to put policies in place, that while using science, don’t fudge the data and make opening some businesses more dangerous than others.

To quote Governor Cuomo of New York and Governor DeSantis of Florida, over 72% of COVID-19 cases are contact-traced to homes and small family and friends’ clusters because they cannot go outside. Lockdowns have been tried and retried, and suicide rates, domestic violence, and drug use have just continued to sky rocket.

Helping Small Businesses Survive

A false notion carried over from the plantation days still has some credibility with a few at the Capitol, and that is the notion that if you were a business person you were automatically wealthy. The wakeup call to the reality of the risks, rewards, and viability and sustainability of our small businesses without tourism is going to stare each of us in the face, and we’re not going to like what we see.

There must be a survival plan in place to keep more businesses from going under, especially food establishments  — already 20% have closed their doors and will never open them again.

Loosening up on taxes and regulations until they get back on their feet are a few ideas that will be considered. The tripling of the state’s unemployment taxes for example, should either be severely cut, held back, or its schedule C rate greatly reduced. The government killed or is killing these businesses, and it is our obligation to throw them a state of Hawaii lifeline in addition to what the federal government CARES Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other stimulus checks may have tried to do.

Hawaii has a “small business set aside” law that has largely been ignored by countless administrations, but should be revived, resurrected, and implemented regardless of how difficult some state workers complain it is.

Balancing The Budget

Our last priority is not a priority but a mandate in the Hawaii State Constitution. We must make revenues equal expenses, with a borrowing limit of 18% added on, but nothing else.

We don’t print money and are almost totally reliant on our small and larger business general excise tax for 50% of our state budget which is about $8 billion per year.

And 25% of our state budget is derived from personal withholding taxes. So with GET and withholding taxes comprising 75% of where the state gets its revenues, keeping our economy closed and tighter any longer has grave consequences.

We are at a very critical juncture in our state’s history and we need a steady had at the wheel. The imperatives to pass these reform measures have never been greater.

We have full confidence that the majority party will do the right things including rekindling the vision of Hawaii’s destiny, as well as stop living off our good looks and start using our brains.

It is time to get to work in the Legislature and be mindful that our economy does not fit our population. Over 57% of Hawaii’s families are not making enough money to pay for their kids’ public-school lunches without a subsidy, and Hawaii can little bear the usual legislative cost of living and tax increases that occur every time the legislature sits.

We can’t be cowards in the 2021 session.

Let’s not tax the rich or be consumed with cutting the pie smaller, we must grow the pie in the 2021 Legislature, and we must get more entrepreneurial and make this economy bigger with high paying jobs. While controversial, the minimum wage and family leave may have to be debated but deferred, and gambling as a solution for not funding Hawaiian Home should be off the table.

Lastly, we can’t be cowards in the 2021 session. We may need to brag a little to give us some courage to take on all the many problems facing us. Sen. Daniel Inouye said it best in 2011 in an APEC speech: he said we need to brag about our successes in Hawaii. We have the best bank in the nation (Bank of Hawaii) the best “on-time airline” in the nation (Hawaiian Airlines), we’re the national leader in renewable energy, have the largest solar telescope in the world, serve as the home of the Pacific Command responsible for the security of over 50% of the Earth’s surface, have in Pearl Harbor the biggest shipyard in the U.S., and are the home of one of only two missile ranges in the nation including a Space Force Base (on Barking Sands on Kauai) and grow 80% of the world’s seed corn on our soil.

We are Hawaii and we always have hope; it is now time for the majority and minority legislators to roll up their sleeves and do the people’s business to make Hawaii a better place to live in 2021 than it was in 2020. It is going to be a tough slog but it is doable!

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About the Author

Gene Ward

Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai) is co-chair of the House Small Business Caucus.

Latest Comments (0)

Mahalo Rep. Ward for your insightful article and always representing your constituents. 

KokoKai_Boi · 2 years ago

Instead of being used for agribusiness seed corn,  that land should e used by local farmers for local food.

taueva · 2 years ago

Thanks for printing this thoughtful piece.  There is much to consider.  If there are more of these intelligent musings from our leaders, this is the time to give them exposure.  After four years of thoughtless plunder, any bit of enlightened insight is welcome.  This is a refreshing reminder that not all our brains have been turned off.

vicki · 2 years ago

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