author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Sunday, May 30, 2004

It’s about the money

Reduced to basics, the battlefield upon which all the wars between Hawaii's Democrats and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle are fought, is strewn with dollars; the fight is about who gets the money and who doesn't.

The latest barrage comes from the Democrats and their steadfast political ally, the Hawaii Government Employees Association. Russell Okata, HGEA executive director, attacks Lingle because of a May 12 letter written by Sam Aiona, Office of Community Services executive director, warning public service providers that Lingle might be forced to cut $1.6 million from their budget because of "projected collective bargaining costs."

That means the pay raises for HGEA members and other public workers, including teachers, professors, police and fire fighters, might cost so much that the charities and private social service agencies paid by the state to handle some of Hawaii's social problems might not get all their funding.

Grants-in-aid have mushroomed from stipends costing hundreds of thousands 20 years ago, to a $260 million portion of the state budget.

Service providers have become good lobbyists; they have learned how to make community programs a legislative priority. They are more than willing to be loyal friends of whoever gives them money to continue their good works.

Okata used his speech before the HGEA convention earlier this year to thrash Lingle.

"Honesty, fairness and integrity are absent in this administration. Instead mistrust, deceit and political retribution have become commonplace," he said.

The official HGEA Web site goes on a tirade against "Lingle's bias against HGEA and her strategy to isolate us from other unions underscore the war she has declared on us at the Legislature.

"HGEA members and families must unite and fight back. She ignores all the signs of our improving economy and, instead, threatens service providers with funding cuts to stir up public sentiment against the recent public employee pay raises," the union says.

Okata and the Democrats' biggest cannon, however, misfired last week. The Democrats have insisted that the economy has turned and we can afford everything in the state's $3.9 billion general fund budget.

Then the state's panel of independent economists, the Council of Revenues, met and said: Things are not bad, but they are no better than when we last met in March, and we don't see any reason to change the revenue estimate. That means that the budget already drawn up, which Lingle had said was too expensive, did not grow, no elastic was included.

Lingle resisted the easy "I told you so," but did react to the report by saying it "reinforces the view that fiscal integrity is very important."

Showing that she has learned you need not provoke the Legislature by vetoing its grants-in-aid, as she did last year, Lingle is now content to watch and "take a very cautious approach."

If the economy slows, Lingle said she would simply not release all the grants-in-aid money appropriated.

Democrats are learning that when the budget is in the Legislature, the battle is theirs to win, but when it moves to the governor's office, the game is over.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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