Time to feed the bottle beast
The state auditor has criticized the Lingle administration's operation of bottle recycling.
GOVERNOR Lingle had no desire for her administration to operate the recycling of bottles, twice vetoing legislation to establish the program. A scathing report
by state Auditor Marion Higa comes just short of chastising Lingle for trying to starve the beast. The administration needs to put more resources into the program to avoid being accused of sabotaging it.
The Republican governor maintained that any program for consumers to redeem bottles should be operated by the private sector. The bottle bill became law in July 2002, and Lingle supported bills to repeal it in 2003 and 2004. Her Department of Health did not begin hiring people to run the program until October 2004, three months before its startup date.
Although hired only as temporary employees, the six people on staff "were always uncertain about whether the program would be repealed -- and they still believe it may be terminated," according to Higa's lengthy report. Only in May of this year, added Higa, did the administration state "that the beverage container program is law, is not going to change, and must be implemented and supported."
Consumers have complained about the program's operation, noting that the bottle redemption centers have different hours. One center might close early because it runs out of money, while another might end the day when its trailer is full of bottles. Higa's staff noticed that some centers opened later than their 9 a.m. schedule, leaving customers to wait up to an hour.
Higa also noted confusion about how customers who spent a half-cent fee for a bottle could receive the nickel refund. Upon a customer's request or lack of a bottle count, center staff may take their weight to arrive at an estimated count. Some customers don't trust the weight-based estimate.
The state paid $8 million for reimbursements and $2 million in handling fees in the first half of this year but still lacks a proper accounting system, Higa wrote. Thus, she added, her office's accountant could not complete a financial audit of the program.
Laurence Lau, state deputy director of environmental health, responded that the bottle program is young, "it's still growing, has made tremendous progress in such a short time and will keep improving." Linda L. Smith, a senior policy adviser to Lingle, called the redemption system "complex, convoluted and difficult to administer."
Given Lingle's opposition to the legislation that created the program, the general public can be expected to agree with Higa's observation: "Whether the administration intended to obstruct the deposit redemption program or not, the administration's positions and actions had that result."