The State Of Our State Is Spooky

No one could accuse Gov. Neil Abercrombie of sugar-coating the situation. In his first “State of the State” address, he told us that we’re not only talking about an $844 million deficit over the next two years, but that we face “a severe operational deficit in government. In other words, as difficult as it will be to balance the budget, that effort will merely be life support for … a battered, under-resourced and often dysfunctional democracy.”

Battered? Under-resourced? Dysfunctional?

Oh, Neil, say it ain’t so. “The truth is,” answered the new guv, “that the canoe, which is our beloved Hawaii, could capsize. We are in that unnerving moment when we could all huli.“You mean cap-size – all of us, into the drink?

That is indeed what Neil the Navigator means, but he intends to right the canoe of state through collective suffering, starting with state retirees.

“I am proposing that we end the current practice of state-funded reimbursement for federal Medicare Part B benefits for Hawaii government employees. … it is a bonus paid for by taxpayers that can no longer be justified in light of our current fiscal and social crisis.”

Ooooh! But it gets worse: “I am proposing two fixes to the tax code that will increase revenues to the state. One is a repeal of the state tax deduction for state taxes – an absurdity in the tax code, the elimination of which is long overdue … The other fix is to implement the recommendation of the Tax Review Commission to treat pension income for tax purposes, as is done when preparing federal taxes.”

Double-ooooh! The AARP folks are going apoplectic.

So will the imbibers of beer, wine, liquor and soda pop.

Said the governor: “I am proposing … an overdue increase in the alcohol tax and will also propose a fee on soda and similar drinks. We can no longer ignore the fact that consumption of these and other such products contribute to rising public health costs.”

Aw, come on. My glass of red wine? My occasional Coke?

Could there be more? You bet. The governor proposed getting something like the transient accommodations tax out of time share occupants, shifting funds from the Hawaii Tourism Authority to “environmental protection, improvements in public facilities, and advancing culture and the arts.”

Finally, Abercrombie proposed the most damaging cut of all: scaling back even further on social services and chopping “benefits provided to Medicaid patients in the coming years in order to sustain health coverage of any kind for eligible individuals and families.” In short, whackin’the weakest among us as well.

Needless to say, there will be blowback. Republicans, the party of bad math, believe that taxes need never be raised – and always lowered as often as possible for the wealthiest among us. The new Democratic governor gave them squawking points galore.

So, too, the over-60 set, the most religious voters in the electorate. Tax their precious pension plans? How could that nice 72-year-old governor, one of us, do that?

He could, of course, because he must, just as he and governors across the country have had to do things they didn’t like since the great economic downturn of 2007-2008. Our own Linda Lingle drank the untaxed Republican KoolAid, took the party’s no-tax pledge, and turned to furloughs and reductions in force instead. The result was Hawaii’s shame: One of the worst public school systems in the country got worse with the shortest school year in a nation already in educational crisis. I can’t believe she liked doing that.

No, Abercrombie, the old politician become new governor, had to lay it out there and urge us, “each legislator, administrator, business owner, worker, advocate, teacher, doctor, parent” to “act in a pono way.” I hope we will, but wouldn’t necessarily bet on it.

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