The Bad News Just Keeps Coming

As a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, more than 11,000 bodies have been recovered and the final death toll could exceed 18,000. The physical damage has been so great that I’ve yet to hear anyone venture an estimate of the cost of rebuilding, or a timeline.

Fortunately, Hawaii’s losses to the tsunami were minimal in comparison. No one lost their lives. Indeed, most of us lost nothing save sleep to the sirens that blared through the night.

But don’t talk minimal damage to the Big Island hotel workers who lost their paychecks and some their jobs because of the waves that swept the Kona Coast. Nor to the Hawaii visitor industry that will surely suffer in the weeks and months ahead.

Two million of the Islands’ 7 million visitors in 2010 came from Japan. Post-tsunami, prospective Japanese tourists will have more serious concerns than their desire for a couple of weeks in Hawaii’s sun.

Then there’s the worsening state fiscal situation. A state Council on Revenues’ report adjusted Hawaii’s 2011 economic growth rate downward: from 3 percent annually to 0.5 percent. Thus overnight Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the state legislators were struggling with a more than $100 million deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a $1 billion deficit for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, rather than the $71 million and $700 million they faced assuming 3 percent growth.

The prospect appeared to rattle Abercrombie (as well it should). He spoke of the fiscal “canoe” in which we are all traveling is about to “capsize.” The day after the council’s initial lowered growth projections, the tsunami struck Japan. The guv asked the council to reconvene and factor in the effect of Japan’s crisis on Hawaii’s revenue picture.

Then there’s the Middle East. Libyans have joined the citizens of some half-dozen other Middle Eastern states in mass demonstrations against their autocratic rulers. Muammar Gaddafi, an autocrat among autocrats, responded with tanks and air strikes against his own people. President Barack Obama announced that United States would join those of other NATO nations in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya.

But we’ve already felt the impact of Libyan unrest and that in the region’s other oil-producing countries – at the gas pump. Some are predicting $5 per gallon by Memorial Day. From the way things are going around the world, it may be more.

As for the state’s fiscal crisis, we’ve responded like a state of special interests, not neighbors. Pensioners, labor, the rich, state workers, businesses small and large all wail. Their pensions shouldn’t be taxed, ending their excise tax exclusions will ruin them, raising the excise tax will ruin us all. “Cut government instead!” one yells. “Education and welfare!” says another. There you have it – gore the young, the poor and those paying $5 per gallon.