Pay-to-play

The 2014 legislative session has been a banner year for “good government” as grants-in-aid (GIAs) have become a slush fund for granting crony-capital to pet-projects and for-profit businesses.

The GIA list has escaped scrutiny in the Legislature previously because it has customarily been a list of non-profit organizations that receive grants from the State of Hawaii to perform various services that would otherwise have to be performed by a state agency.[1] Organizations that benefit from a GIA typically work in areas of human services such as the elderly, homeless, or even native Hawaiian outreach. The unifying theme however is that these organizations are non-profits.

The association of Rida Cabanilla (House District 41 – Ewa) with the Ewa Historical Society has yielded much scrutiny by the news media over the last week. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I would urge you to instead read one of the pieces that have already been published on the topic (in this particular instance, I recommend both pieces offered by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, both the piece authored by Derrick DePledge and by the paper’s editorial board):

As a continuation of this coverage, the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser[2] unveiled that the $100,000 that was granted to the Ewa Historical Society was only the tip of the iceberg. A more careful analysis of the GIA list for 2014 noted that Navatek (and any related parent or subsidiary organizations) were appropriated over $1-million in taxpayer dollars on top of the $250,000 that they received last year. While GIAs were intended for non-profit organizations, House and Senate leaders have found ways to funnel taxpayer dollars from businesses to entities of their choosing.

This will certainly lead to closer scrutiny of ties between House leaders (Joe Souki, Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke) and parent/subsidiary corporations of Navatek to see if elected officials directly benefitted from this inappropriate appropriation.

What is exceptionally shocking is the commentary on the GIA list offered by House leaders:

“And for others in need of help you provided more than $10 million in Grant-in-Aid for nonprofit organizations who reach out to the community with invaluable services”. (House Speaker Joe Souki)

$10 million in Grant-in-Aid (GIA) for nonprofit organizations who provide community services . . .” (Sylvia Luke, House Finance Chair)

“Fortunately, the House and Senate were able to put together a little over $10 million to support our local community and service groups, who assist a wide range of individuals within our community and are an integral part of our social safety net providing essential services for our state.” (Ty Cullen, House Chair of GIA Appropriations)

Commentary offered by our elected officials indicates an entirely new level of (a) ignorance or (b) arrogance. Whether a product of the careless disregard led by ignorance or the arrogance of elected officials who believe that they are above the law, this bodes poorly for the people of Hawaii regardless of party, affiliation or creed.


[1] A great example of a non-profit that has benefitted from a grant-in-aid (GIA) is Meals on Wheels. They provide an important service to elderly and disabled individuals that actually save state government money on services that they might have to provide themselves, or a much more expensive proposition. Meals on Wheels not only provides meals to our kupuna, but in doing so periodically checks up on them. The cost of a visit by a volunteer pales in comparison to emergency services that might be associated with a debilitating slip-and-fall.

[2] Grants, tax credit benefit for-profit entities, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 4, 2014.

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