Strict Scrutiny

Never one to shy from the spotlight, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke never misses an opportunity to spout populist platitudes. In an interview with Richard Borreca, she is quoted saying:

Even during the campaign I told (Governor) David (Ige), even though you and I are friends, it is not as if you are going to get a pass; we will scrutinize your departments as much as I have done in the past. [1]

However, under even light scrutiny, these comments by Luke are disingenuous at best.

The economy and the associated economic outlook have not changed in the past year. The reality of spending more money than is taken in is not new to this fiscal year, or the last, or the one before that. The only circumstance that has changed is the election of a rather popular who preaches efficiency and fiscal responsibility. After writing a check for $60-million last year (sight unseen) and upsetting the balance in the state budget, Luke’s rise as a crusader of fiscal responsibility appears to come out of necessity and convenience.

The lack of scrutiny by the House Finance Committee is palatable in many ways:

  1. For a committee that is charged with a $6-billion budget, they spend very little time actually scrutinizing the budget. Committee meetings appear to finish in record time to make Happy Hour down at Hukilau on the dime of another high-powered lobbyist with deep pockets.
  2. Gone are the days where department directors are grilled about their funding and spending requests. Rather than explaining their extensive budget requests, directors mysteriously “stand on their written testimony” with the look of a beaten stepchild.
  3. Luke has gone to great lengths to ensure that no questions are asked. In one instance (indicative of many others), Luke responded menacingly to a committee member with a question by stating “Are you sure you want to ask a question?”. [2]
  4. House Finance Committee hearings are no longer televised on Olelo. Televising hearings allowed the general public to scrutinize the same state directors that the committee itself is supposed to scrutinize. Televised hearings also allowed the public to scrutinize the House Finance Committee to see that they were doing their job.

Had Borreca expanded the scope of his interview beyond Luke’s wink and smile, he would have seen the gaping chasm between what Luke says and what she practices. While Borreca is a refreshing voice at the Star-Advertiser [3], it seems that he too (in this instance) suffers from the same myopia as Luke, and a similar inability to apply scrutiny.

The vacuous [4] House Majority Package touted increasing participation in government as one of its planks. I am a firm believer that leadership begins at the top, and the first steps do not even require a bill to be passed. Increased participation can begin by having each and every House Finance Committee hearing testified. Allow the public to scrutinize state directors. Allow the public to scrutinize the House Finance Committee. Not just the working class who cannot attend the hearings during work hours, but the neighbor island public who cannot even participate in the hearing due to geographical limitations.

What is there to lose? If you believe the praises that Luke heaps upon herself, then there is nothing to lose with more scrutiny.  $60-million dollars later, it seems that Luke would benefit from an extra set of eyes.

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[1] – Honolulu Star-Advertiser, January 25, 2015 “Frugal house leadership casts wary eye on spending

[2] – Some who track legislative history will remember the House Finance Committee under Rep. Marcus Oshiro, and the arduous marathon hearings that resulted. Under Oshiro’s leadership, members were encouraged to ask hard questions. To ensure that questions were not frivolous, members were asked to make a 50-cent per question donation to the Hawaii Food Bank

[3] – It is the view of this blog that the Star-Advertiser has sacrificed its role as fourth branch of government and the voice of the public in order to be a cheerleader for the liberal agenda. While we needn’t agree on all points, or even some, the pattern of effusive support for liberal agenda items clearly illustrate the pattern at hand.

[4] – While big on ideas, the House Majority Package contained no actual bills to achieve the lofty ideals that they aspire toward.

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