Liberal Lovefest

midweek-coverThis week’s issue of Midweek waded into the political discussion by offering a flattering spread on the two money chairs (Sylvia Luke and Jill Tokuda) in the state legislature.  In it, the author goes to great lengths to ignore the spotty legislative record of these two legislators to deliver a fairy tale fitting for bedtime stories told to the next generation of Young Democrats.  While it takes very little scrutiny to shatter the façade painted by Midweek, it is disheartening that they are perpetuating the lies and deceit told by sitting legislators – especially in an election year.

To be clear, much of the time in this blog is spent scrutinizing the chairs of both money committees in the Legislature – the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Conventional wisdom would dictate that more space should be devoted to criticizing the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.  The disproportionate scrutiny is justified because (a) the incredible amount of influence and power that these committees wield, relative to other committees, and (b) specifically how Luke and Tokuda use this power to leverage their own agendas.  If there is one thing that the Midweek’s Dan Boylan got right:

Thus the power and the potential of Luke and Tokuda.  House Finance and WAM (Ways and Means) decide the fate of every bill referred to them: those by the governor and those by the Legislature’s 31 subject committees.  Legislation sans funding is meaningless.

I would have been content to give this article a pass.  Midweek is known neither for its substance nor its depth in reporting.  The cover, however, made an assertion that could never be delivered upon:

Da Sistahs: Looking Out For Your Money – Jill Tokuda (right) chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Sylvia Luke chairs the House Finance Committee.  In other words, they control the purse strings at the Legislature.  And they’re very picky about what they’re willing to spend money on.

The truth is, they are not picky at all.  They are not even judicious.  Let’s look at the Dynamic Duo’s greatest hits:

Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) : The courts found that under the watch of Luke and Tokuda, DHHL was underfunded to the tune of $28 million.  In her ruling, Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti wrote about the net effects, “DHHL suffers from a lack of funding and staffing, which adversely affects beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homelands Trust.

Turtle Bay: Under Luke’s watch, a check was written sight unseen to finance a conservation easement at Turtle Bay for $40 million – a proposal that never received a public hearing.  In a gotcha moment (that later backfired), then Governor Neil Abercrombie admonished Luke’s (and then Senator Ige’s) “creative math”.  In a rare admission of guilt, Luke confided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser when Derrick DePledge wrote:

Luke said she was not surprised there was a mistake in the bond declaration bill because lawmakers scrambled at the end of the session to find $40 million in bond money to finance a $48.5 million conservation easement at Turtle Bay Resort. 

If one cannot even add the numbers correctly, perhaps they would be better off chairing the House Judiciary Committee.

Kihei High School: In what is turning out to be a highly contentious issue, Luke has funded the construction of a high school in Kihei despite declining enrollment on the island.  In an April 26, 2016 Op-Ed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

To add insult to injury, the House just slashed it (money allocation for a new building at Campbell High School) by half to $15 million, while appropriating $37 million for a new high school in Kihei that is not needed; enrollment there (Maui/Baldwin) is projected to decline by 409 students while West Oahu (Campbell/Kapolei) is predicted to rise by 769 students. Even more remarkable is that the Senate allocated zero dollars for Campbell and upped the Maui appropriation to $38 million. What are we doing?

Funding only half a building at Campbell High School?  Building a high school where there is no need based on student enrollment?  Clearly, Luke and Tokuda are NOT picky about how they spend your money.  If that was not the case, they would be guilty of playing politics.

With sympathy to the Kihei students who must commute to attend Maui High School, there is no need for a Kihei High School.  With existing Kapolei and Campbell High Schools stuffed to the gills with students, a long-talked about high school in East Kapolei is the fiscally-responsible thing to do, not another band aid on a campus that cannot and should not be supporting an excess of 3,000 students.  Alternatively, Tokuda could agree to reduce the number of under-enrolled high schools in her area from three to two so other areas of the state could be better served.

Luke and Tokuda have a long track record available for scrutiny despite the hopes of liberal-loving media that you look past the comedy of errors.  Upon examination, the illusion of “picky spending” and “fiscal prudence” is seen for what it really is: petty politics and legislative factionalism.

When print is not even worth the paper that it is printed on, the only thing that this week’s issue of Midweek is good for is lining the bottom of the bird cage.



Shady Dealings

Courtesy the Hawaii House BlogLiberal and progressive Democrats have never missed an opportunity to alienate voters.  On this occasion, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Editorial Board (party-of-one) finally called it like it is:

On a bad-government note: Legislators on the House floor Tuesday approved a blank bill with no content; its only vague reference was to geothermal power and it was advanced, over some objections, to conference committee negotiations. This short-form bill maneuver — “unusual,” conceded House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke — locks out direct public input on the proposed law to be discussed, since conference committee is where language will be inserted in the blank bill but public testimony is not allowed.

Open-government advocates warn yearly about “gut and replace” tactics at this stage of the session, but it is unconscionable for legislators to forward a blank bill on the contentious issue of geothermal power with no hint of content or prior public input. This one bears particular scrutiny.

Recall that it was this very same leadership team of liberal Democrats that promised transparency in government:

The most critical important check on government is an informed and involved citizenry. At minimum, residents should vote. We will work to facilitate, rather than hamper, public involvement in government.

— followed time and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again where they betrayed the transparency and good government that they promised.

Conference committee is a dark time at the Legislature where the House and Senate hammer our their differences on pieces of legislation that have managed to pass through both chambers.  During this part of the legislative session, no public testimony is accepted.

This move is part-and-parcel of the liberal agenda – to alienate moderate and conservative voters so that louder, more liberal and progressive voices are able to monopolize government.  This is not a “red” or “blue” issue.  It is not about Democrats and Republicans — there are moderate Democrats who have also suffered at the hands of this unholy crusade.  Likewise, there are liberal Republicans who have benefitted from the alienation of moderates and conservatives.

It is about liberals and progressives against moderates and conservatives.  When elected officials remove the public from the lawmaking process, being disengaged is the worst possible option.  Now more than ever, people of faith must stay engaged and keep government accountable.

No Specific Reason

From the Honolulu Star-AdvertiserThe latest installment of “Working Hard or Hardly Working” (WH/HW?) comes from Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.

HB2501 came at the request of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).  It would permit a “holdover” water rights while their filing before the Land Board is being reviewed.  This became necessary with the imminent closure of Hawaii Cane & Sugar (HC&S) (a) to preserve water service to more than 30,000 upcountry Maui residents, and (b) to transition the company’s land holdings from sugar cane to diversified agriculture.  The latter is what triggered a review of A&Bs water permits.

In the latest draft issued by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, A&B was specifically excluded from the bill while ten other applicants would still benefit.  When Tokuda was pressed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she offered her wisdom:

“There’s no specific reason”

A recent article offered (“How much should state legislators get paid?“) examined the compensation that lawmakers receive across the nation.  Compensation is not just what legislators are paid directly as salary, but includes per diem expenses.  For example, neighbor island legislators are rightly compensated a single roundtrip ticket from their districts to Oahu every week.  They are also compensated for their housing accommodations in Honolulu during the legislative session.

When all is tabulated, Hawaii legislators received the largest compensation for any part-time or hybrid legislature in the nation.  For their work from the months of January through early May, Hawaii legislators are reported by NCSL to be compensated $68,352.

Keep in mind that this is what they are paid for four months of work.  This is lumped on top of what should be their normal, full-time employment.  What is the point of a part-time legislator when their only gainful employment is being a lawmaker?

When legislators receive a full year’s salary for only four months of full-time work, “For no specific reason” is not the $68,352 response that taxpayers deserve – especially when the action jeopardizes the sustainability of our islands and water services to 30,000 constituents.

There once was a time not too long ago when lawmakers were not afraid to work hard.  The mentality of public service and judicious oversight had lawmakers holding marathon hearings from 1PM in the afternoon until 2, 3 or even 4AM the following morning.  These days it seems that they are all trying to make happy hour down at Hukilau, or the fundraiser of one of their colleagues to liquor up and enjoy being lavished with expensive food by lobbyists.

A case can be made for proper compensation of legislators.  There is a saying in the private sector that says “you get what you pay for”, and the findings by seem to support that.  Current legislative leaders, however, are starting to look less and less like hard-working private sector employees and more like 9-to-5 entry level employees.  If a $68,352 manager in the private sector made a decision based on “no specific reason”, they would be terminated immediately.

Is your legislator working hard?  Or hardly working?