Thursday, January 17, 2002

State Rep. K. Mark Takai supports transferring Aloha Stadium to the University of Hawaii. He was at yesterday's legislative opening with son Matthew, 3 months, and wife Sami.

UH President Evan Dobelle wants
Aloha Stadium. He wants to save $800,000+
in annual rent. He wants the state to ...

Play ball

No easy budget cure
DOE in hot seat

By Treena Shapiro

If the University of Hawaii could manage Aloha Stadium, the university would save $800,000 in rent each year and make added revenue, said UH President Evan Dobelle.

Legislature 2002 Currently, ticket sales are the only way for the university to recapture the rent money, Dobelle said. "I get no parking, I get no concessions and I don't run the stadium. To me, that just doesn't make sense for a big-time athletics program."

Dobelle also would like to see the stadium used more often for major concerts. "It's my attitude we ought to have a Janet Jackson concert there every Saturday night."

Senate President Robert Bunda said yesterday that legislators should consider transferring control and management of the stadium to UH.

"Yes, there are questions in such a move, but head football coach June Jones and Athletic Director Hugh Yoshida may be able to take the athletic program and the stadium to new levels if given a chance," Bunda said yesterday in his opening-session speech to the Senate.

Some lawmakers said they are willing to consider the transfer, but most want to ensure that the needs of all users of the stadium are considered. Stadium manager Edwin Hayashi could not be reached for comment.

Dobelle, who previously suggested building a new stadium in West Oahu, said that if the stadium could be sufficiently refurbished and upgraded with a new turf field, there would be no need for a new stadium.

Though more subdued than in past years, yesterday's start of the state legislative session drew family and friends of lawmakers. Trevor Hemmings, 1, held by his mom, Dr. Daphne Hemmings, looked over at his grandfather, Sen. Fred Hemmings, during the opening ceremonies.

He also said the stadium was a "major revenue producer" and the university would be respectful of others who use the stadium, such as the swap meet.

"I think June Jones and President Dobelle have many times (shown) good vision, and perhaps Aloha Stadium could be part of it," said Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua-Salt Lake).

Sakamoto said the transfer is worth exploring, but stressed the importance of incorporating other users -- particularly high school football teams -- into scheduling. "The goal shouldn't be just to raise more revenue off of high schools," he said.

He said he would wait to see how the plans would include current users, as well as the financial effects.

Rep. K. Mark Takai (D, Waimalu-Waiau-Newtown), who introduced a bill last year to transfer Aloha Stadium to UH, said details still need to be worked out but that the planning process has always taken high school athletic programs into consideration.

"As a matter of fact, I think it will enhance the relationships between the UH athletic programs and high school athletics," Takai said.

He said Gov. Ben Cayetano would be introducing similar bills in the House and Senate this session.

Takai said most of the athletic programs UH aspires to compete with have their own stadiums.

"If we're going to be competitive and if we're going to provide coach Jones with the additional edge to be competitive nationally, we have to be able to provide the UH athletic department with the tools necessary to be successful," he said.

Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua-Waimanalo) said he has mixed emotions about giving the stadium to the university.

"I know (stadium manager) Eddie Hayashi and his gang have done a great job managing the facility to date," he said. "I'm not sure if the University of Hawaii is prepared to protect the interests of independent promoters and events."

"I think the University of Hawaii would be, to a certain extent, in a conflict-of-interest position since they're one of the primary users of the stadium," he said.

The current system allows anyone who wants to use the stadium to deal on equal footing with everyone else, Hemmings said.

"Would the University of Hawaii bend over backward to accommodate a major concert the night before a UH football game?"

"It might be a worthy idea to look at, but I think we should proceed cautiously," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Aina Haina) said there are many unresolved questions left over from a hearing about the stadium last session.

He said legislators have had difficulty getting accurate financial and operational data from the Stadium Authority. He said he also had a problem with how the Stadium Authority has managed security and the swap meet. "I think there needs to be a shakeup of the Stadium Authority," he said.

But Slom does not know if handing the stadium to UH is the solution. "I think you need to solve the problems first, then talk about jurisdiction," he said.

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No easy cure for
budget shortfall

By Pat Omandam

With no cure-all to the state's $330 million shortfall this fiscal year, state lawmakers warn whatever they do to make up the revenue and stimulate the economy may not be easy medicine to swallow.

"We cannot honestly pledge that there will be no pain, no loss of jobs, no cuts in services or no declines in revenues," said House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa) yesterday.

"People will be affected: our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, all of us," Oshiro said.

Foremost for the state Legislature -- which began its regular session yesterday -- is whether to use some or all of the $213 million Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to help offset the shortfall. Democrats appear receptive to the idea, while Republicans are steadfast against it and want the money returned to those who paid into it.

"You can use it for hurricanes or you can return it to the people, but you can't use it to balance the budget," said House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R, Waikiki).

House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) said he will ask the majority caucus to consider transferring a portion of money to the state general fund. But if most oppose it, Say will consider deeper across-the-board budget cuts for state programs to come up with the money.

Gov. Ben Cayetano warned earlier this month that state agencies could face across-the-board budget cuts of up to 18 percent in 2004 if he cannot use the hurricane fund to offset the shortfall in the next two years.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) said he favors using some of the hurricane money to help homeowners strengthen their homes against hurricanes, and wants to keep the rest in reserve. That is because it would be nearly impossible to replenish the fund in the aftermath of another hurricane, given the state economy, he said.

Legislators also want to review various state special or revolving funds that no longer serve the purpose for which they were created.

About 70 such funds with a total cash balance of $96 million fall into that category, and the Legislature should consider regaining control of them, Democratic leaders said.

"We should not simply look to raid these funds to balance our budget, but rather to make meaningful changes in the way we structure our nongeneral funds," Bunda said.

But Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) opposes the idea because the state has a habit of earmarking money from these funds for purposes other than for what they were intended.

"They see that as a pile of money," Slom said.

And it looks like any money from gambling will depend on the vote of Hawaii residents. Cayetano and other top Democrats are open to a referendum on gambling on this fall's general election ballot, but whether the Legislature can muster the two-thirds support for it is uncertain.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said with so much controversy surrounding gambling, lawmakers would be wasting their time and energy on the issue this session because a consensus is unlikely.

Instead, Hirono -- who is opposed to gambling in Hawaii -- said lawmakers should focus on positive ways to improve the economy. For example, education, health care, biotechnology and high technology are areas where there is bipartisan support, she said.

Meanwhile, other ways the Legislature is looking to deal with the $330 million shortfall include:

>> A $900 million construction budget to stimulate the economy.

>> Reviewing whether general excise tax exemptions now granted to hospitals, nonprofits and other agencies are still needed or warranted.

>> Eliminating the GET on food, a long-standing idea which Republicans claim will stimulate the economy. Democrats, however, said the loss of an estimated $230 million in revenue will only hurt the state.

>> Improving government efficiency and investing aggressively in higher and lower education.

>> Doubling the state liquor tax.

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Sen. Norman Sakamoto (left), Sen. Les Ihara (center), Richard Port (second from right), and Sen. David Ige (right) pause for a prayer during the Senate opening ceremonies yesterday.

New superintendent
hopes money panels
will be DOE partners

By Crystal Kua

New state schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto will be in the hot seat for the first time as she appears today before the Legislature's money committees.

"Kids have to learn -- that's what it's about," Hamamoto said yesterday at the end of ceremonies marking the opening of the state Legislature.

"So as a system I have to keep moving forward. So give me my base budget, and I will hold the line, and I will work from within with the resources I have to move forward. That's the partnership I'm asking for with the Legislature."

But not only will the Department of Education have to justify its overall operating budget requests today, it also will have to lobby hard for money it says it needs to comply with the Felix consent decree, the federal mandate on special education.

"I don't think money will be the issue in terms of whether we fund enough or anything like that. It's just going to be how we scrutinize their budget," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, vice chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Hanabusa said lawmakers will ask a lot of questions about the education budget and Felix throughout the session and will propose solutions to problems uncovered during an investigation of Felix spending. Hanabusa co-chaired a joint Senate-House investigative committee looking into how money is spent to comply with the consent decree.

"We've never said we were opposed to their spending. We just wanted to make sure that the money was being spent for its intended purpose, so I think that's what you're going to see," said Hanabusa (D, Waianae).

For the first time in several legislative sessions, education has taken a back seat to another issue, the economy, which has spiraled downward since the Sept. 11 attacks.

A direct result of that financial fallout is that the Department of Education, like other state departments, could take a 1 percent cut to its $1.2 billion budget this fiscal year and a 2 percent cut next fiscal year to help offset the state's projected $330 million shortfall.

Hamamoto heard praise during opening-day speeches about her plans to decentralize school districts, but also skepticism from lawmakers about the way the Education Department conducts its business with the budget, in the consent decree and in the classroom.

"What good is computer Internet wiring if our children still cannot read, write or find Afghanistan on a map?" Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom told colleagues yesterday.

Hamamoto said the message was loud and clear. "Understanding where we are economically and knowing that we are still responsible for results ... I'm hearing what they're saying. It's important that our students have the skills they need to survive and be successful, and that is clear."

It is not surprising to folks like Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, who also sat in on opening-day activities, that the economy -- and not education -- is front and center.

"What we want to keep reminding people is, you cannot improve and diversify the economy if you don't improve public education," Husted said. "They have to go hand in hand."

Slom also linked the economy and education. "You can't support education unless you have a viable economy."

Slom said proposals on both sides of the aisle to revamp the governance of the Department of Education and move authority closer to the schools should be done in great leaps but with caution.

"Any additional autonomy is going to be tempered with making sure there is oversight and making sure that the Legislature is in the loop," Slom said. "We're tired of just writing out checks and when bad things happen, everybody comes back to us and says, 'How come you did this?' and we didn't know anything about it."

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