Monday, September 7, 2009

Musings: Tax Dollars at Work

A dawn rain kept Koko and me in bed a little later than usual, so by the time we got up and out the sun was shining and the humidity was rising, which prompted us to cut our walk short and head directly for the beach.

The tide was dropping, exposing a thick shell line, and no one was around but a wandering tattler — 'Ulili — that teased Koko with a lengthy shoreline run before executing a perfect get-away with an overwater course.

Those birds are smart. The other day I had Koko on a leash and the `Ulili would walk to within a foot of her, apparently understanding that she was tethered, and thus posed no threat.

The same is not true for Gov. Lingle's plans to layoff half the state's ag inspectors, which drew an angry crowd of Maui folks to a Senate hearing on the proposal. They were justifiably concerned about the threat it could pose to farmers and the environment. As the Maui News reported:

In the Agriculture Department's Plant Quarantine Branch, 52 of 112 positions are to be eliminated, representing 54 percent of the state's agricultural inspectors.

The paper goes on to report the layoffs will save only $5 million, which was termed “a drop in the bucket” in light of the state’s $900 million deficit.

Seeing as how invasive species are such a serious threat to our native environment, agriculture and even tourism, it seems foolhardy to cut the ag inspectors so drastically.

But after reading the transcript of Lingle’s web address — and considering that it was delivered the day before a binding arbitration hearing with HGEA and she was unavailable for media questions afterward — it seems she’s more concerned with building her Republican credentials than taking a collaborative approach to solving the state’s budget woes.

Lingle delivered the kinds of lines that could so easily be cut and pasted into a future GOP campaign speech:

I am not willing to leave to Hawai'i's next Governor the tough choices that need to be made today.

We truly have a government that we no longer can afford.

Further, we need to remember that each dollar in taxes we take out of the private sector means less money businesses have to create jobs, re-build companies and re-grow our economy.

She also criticized the type of Senate hearing that was held on Maui, where some 100 people came to express their concerns about cutting the ag inspectors:

Holding multiple and repetitive legislative hearings to criticize these decisions as they are made does nothing to address the deficit, and it detracts from the work cabinet directors must undertake to implement these difficult but necessary changes.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable that the public’s views should be considered on matters that concern both their tax dollars and their lives, which brings us to a few updates I’ve been wanting to provide on marijuana decriminalization/legalization efforts. For starters, Big Island cops recently staged an eradication effort, despite a new initiative that requires the county to refuse state and federal funds for such programs.

Apparently the cops used “leftover” monies from the previous fiscal year. But as West Hawaii Today reports:

In accordance with the new law, no plots of 24 or fewer plants on private property were eradicated, said Sherlock and Lt. Miles Chong of the Kona Vice Section.

OK, so why can't we get something like that in place here?

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, meanwhile, has published a paper on “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization for Hawai`i” that finds:

Economic analysis of current public policies on marijuana reveals that Hawaii state and county governments could reap up to $33 million annually in new revenues and cost savings if tax and regulatory policies were to replace law enforcement to control marijuana distribution. Furthermore, research indicates that enforcement expenditures of up to $10 million each year statewide have failed to reduce the amount of marijuana available in Hawaii.

Looking east to the Americas, Denver’s marijuana policy review panel recently decided, according to The Denver Post, “to send a letter to the presiding judge of Denver County Court urging a $1 fine as penalty for possession of marijuana of less than an ounce. The idea is that lowering the fine would send a message to police "that it is not worth their time or the court's to issue any more citations."

And Mexico moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all major narcotics, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and crystal meth, prompting Time magazine to run a story on how “Mexico's New Drug Law May Set an Example.” The article noted that in striking contrast to the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has been “decidedly guarded in commenting on the new legislation:”

Many view such a change as evidence that Washington is finally reconsidering its confrontational war on drugs, four decades after Richard Nixon declared it. "There is a growing opinion that the use of force has simply failed to destroy the drug trade and other measures are needed," says Mexican political analyst José Antonio Crespo. "It appears that the White House may be starting to adjust its approach."

"Governments seeing that Washington did not condemn Mexico for its law may be bolder in their own legislation. Countries are becoming aware that the United States with its millions of drug users should not be judging them on their policies," he [Allen St. Pierre, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws] says. In February, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico signed a statement calling for decriminalization of several narcotics. "Current drug-repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions," it said. (On Aug. 25, the Argentine supreme court essentially legalized the private use of small amounts of marijuana.)

And finally, if you need yet another reason to support independent media, read the Honolulu Weekly’s piece on the dispute between the state and feds over health care for Hawaii’s Micronesians. It was the only account I read that delved into why so many Micronesians are here, and why they need to chemotherapy:

The U.S. Eniwetok and Bikini were used as nuclear testing grounds, setting off 67 open-air atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts that equaled, [Dr. Keola G. K.] Dowling says, “1.7 hiroshima-sized bombs every morning 12 years…One of the islands in their homeland was turned into white light. It was vaporized.”

“Of 160 Micronesians who are under chemotherapy in Hawaii, most of them are from the Marshall Islands, and most of those came from where they blasted those bombs on Eniwetok and Bikini,” Dowling notes.

Just another example of your tax dollars at work.


Anonymous said...

ill take lingle over that lady in alaska any day of the week

as to the pot thing, 24 plants seems like a lot (?) ounce seems like a lot too. seems like the mexican approach is better (ie, de-crim very small amounts)

oh and "United States with its millions of [rich] drug users" would be more accurate. relatively poor drug users overseas abound

and good to see the micronesian thing, seems like an important story


Dawson said...

"ill take lingle over that lady in alaska any day of the week"

I wouldn't be surprised if the lady in Alaska is one of the key reasons Lingle will be winging eastward.

Think of her as a bottle of the brew the Republican Party needs.

They're going to find her... tasty.

Anonymous said...

Glad the Micronesians can continue to receive help...

Per the State workers...please! I read a stat that said per capita, we have the highest number of State workers per any state in the US...take the larger population areas (NY, Ill, etc.) and our State system is like 2-3x that per capita. I believe we need to have strong depts in some areas (ag, etc.) but why so many admin? It's the problem killing the UH system...

and, on Labor Day, don't forget all those good union folks!! Look what they did to Michigan...

Katy said...

To those who simplistically blame workers for Detroit's woes, I suggest reading Malcolm Gladwell's piece "The Risk Pool," which ran in the New Yorker a few years ago:

I think you'll find it interesting to read how the matter of affordably providing health coverage to the factory workers was screwed up - by the companies themselves.

Katy said...

Health care and pensions, I mean.