Pots, Kettles and the Color Black

From the Honolulu Star-AdvertiserDrama unfolding both in the supplemental budget and with rulemaking for marijuana dispensaries highlights the real problem haunting the Legislature. However, when legislative leaders are the problem, any acknowledgement of the problem is slow to come and there is little hope for a solution.

At an informational briefing to senators regarding rules that would govern medical marijuana dispensaries, Department of Health (DoH) officials faced scathing rebukes for doing their job well. One of the core issues is a prohibition against greenhouses to grow marijuana for medical use. Lawmakers were quick to rebuke officials (quotes from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser):

“I get very frustrated when executive departments establish rules that go beyond what the Legislature opined,” Sen. Roz Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui)

“In a state with the best sunlight and highest cost of electricity, you have eliminated the fundamental ability of plants to transform sunlight,” said Ruderman.

“It’s like telling the liquor store, you can’t sell beer,” said Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), adding that the prohibition just sounds “illogical, wrong and without thought.”

All three senators fought to champion legislation to permit medical marijuana dispensaries. All three, as members of committees on consumer protection and on health, also failed to spell out their intentions when the bill was eventually passed. Worried about legislative deadlines and Happy Hour down at Hukilau, they thought that no one would notice the half-baked bill that they passed.

While legislators pass bills that establish what exactly the law should state (Hawaii Revised Statues or “HRS”), it is up to state agencies to create rules by which to interpret and implement these laws and to fill any gaps left in the law. In this case, the bill never addressed greenhouses.  So the DoH did.

If legislators felt so strongly about greenhouses, shouldn’t they have written it in to the bill in the first place? If Baker, Rudderman and Espero are looking to point fingers, perhaps they should look at themselves first. So frequently legislators look at themselves as the solution when they are really the problem.

In a similar episode of “the pot calling the kettle black”, legislative money chairs (Senator Jill Tokuda and Representative Sylvia Luke) began slinging rocks at Governor Ige’s glass house. [1] Luke and Tokuda were quick to note that the supplemental budget failed to provide for (a) public employee raises, (b) money for the state’s unfunded liabilities, and (c) court-ordered money for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

While their concerns are true, Luke and Tokuda fail to acknowledge that these shortfalls are a product of their own shoddy workmanship. It was the failure of Sylvia Luke and Jill Tokuda to assign the appropriate amount of funds to operate DHHL that triggered a Circuit Court decision ordering an extra $20-million be appropriated to the agency.

Meanwhile, the state’s unfunded liabilities have reached record levels under the watch of Luke and Tokuda.  The deficit in the Employee Retirement System alone swelled to $8.77 billion.  For perspective, state government requires $6 billion to $7 billion per year just to operate.

This is not the first time that money chairs at the Legislature had a problem with math. A little less than two years ago, it was Sylvia Luke and David Ige who “forgot” more than $60 million dollars in the budget to fund one-time impulse purchases that received no public input or public hearing.

If legislative leaders applied the same scrutiny to themselves that they apply to other people, they would find that many of their problems would be solved. It seems they are either ignorant or indifferent to the reality of the situation – they are the problem, not the solution.  Rather than making the best decisions and picking out the correct solutions, they are just in the business of picking winners.

[1] Funny how no one throws stones at Luke or Tokuda’s metaphorical glass house.