I can see clearly now
by Keli’i Akina, PhD, Grassroot Institute, January 1, 2021
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a fresh start.
I’m far from the first to observe that 2020 was a difficult year, full of profound challenges. Over the past 12 months, we’ve learned a lot about the state of our state’s finances, the limits of liberty, the way that our leaders will respond to an emergency and much more than we ever expected to know about epidemiology.
Learning can sometimes be painful, and 2020 was no exception. Now, it’s time to put those lessons to use.
In many ways, we’ve fallen about as far as it’s possible to fall. The state economy is on life support. Tourism is a shadow of its former self and is expected to take at least five years to recover. Our state’s budget is so unbalanced that it resembles a Jenga tower constructed by a five-year-old. Locals are fleeing the state in even bigger numbers than expected.
It may seem grim, but I see a silver lining. After all, once you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
The past year might have been painful, but we are still here and ready to put the hard-won wisdom from 2020 to use. We have an opportunity to change our state and make it more free and more prosperous than ever before.
It’s worth remembering that many of the problems we’re facing were present before the pandemic hit. The lockdowns only exacerbated the state’s issues with unfunded liabilities, its high cost of living and lack of economic opportunity. It’s clear that more of the same won’t fix our economy, so it’s time to try something new.
If I could be so bold as to make a few New Year’s resolutions for our state policymakers, I would resolve to seek out different solutions to make 2021 a great year for Hawaii. No more borrowing to balance the budget or big spending projects. No raising taxes or fees on Hawaii businesses or residents for a couple of years — and most especially, no soft-peddling the idea of a billion-dollar tax hike to make up a budget deficit.
Instead, I would resolve to help Hawaii’s finances by increasing economic freedom in our state. Rather than turning to higher taxes to raise state revenues, I would embrace policies that help businesses and entrepreneurs prosper. When they do well, our state coffers fill, even at lower tax rates.
I would clear away licensing requirements and regulations on small businesses, and reduce red tape at both the state and county levels. And I would help our housing crisis by reforming land-use laws and zoning restrictions to increase the amount of land available for residential use.
In short, I would recognize that we have a chance for a new start in 2021, so long as we let go of the “tax, spend and regulate” philosophy of the past and embrace a fresh way of thinking.
On the first of the year, everything seems possible, even a revolutionary new approach to economic policy in our state. Let me be among the first to wish you a very happy New Year as we work together to help Hawaii prosper again.
E hana kākou! (Let's work together!)
Keli'i Akina, Ph.D.
President / CEO, Grassroot Institute