Numbers up on politically inspired press releases
HERE ARE two sure bets: It will rain in March, and politicians have an unrelenting need to tell you how they are spending your money.
Well, there could be a drought or global warming and it might not rain every March, but don't gamble on a pol spending your money in anonymity.
Among the members of our congressional delegation there has always been a bit of competition to rush out the numbers.
Because of the many stages in the appropriations process, it is easy to have a small press release festival for each stop in the a dollar's journey as it moves from committee to committee and then to the floor for a vote, and finally when it is immortalized in the actual budget bill.
Hawaii's senior Sen. Dan Inouye is fond of keeping a heavy dossier on his desk with the complete list of appropriations measures that he has steered to Hawaii. You don't have to itemize it or add up the numbers, just measure the height of the stack to know that "Dan delivers."
Now in Honolulu, Gov. Linda Lingle is taking the appropriations spin to a new level with her own releases.
In the first 10 days of this month Gov. Linda Lingle had 10 press releases announcing $18,510,689 for construction projects across the state.
The biggest release went to Kealakehe Intermediate School in Kailua-Kona. The state is spending $5,621,250 to build a two-story administration and library building.
The smallest release was $35,000 in planning funds to buy 2.769 acres donated by Kauai County for use by Kalaheo Elementary School.
Back in the days of former Gov. George Ariyoshi, the notifications came in monthly reports from the Accounting and General Services office.
Lingle spokesman Russell Pang says the office tries to publicize as many releases as possible.
"We look at projects that are important to residents across the state ... the governor felt it was important that the public was informed about what the state government is doing," he said.
Of course, communication is important, but as members of the news media note, there's information and then there is the whole story.
The millions released came to Lingle's desk after their inclusion in the budget, usually by a legislator who had a pack of constituents trailing him, demanding a new building or project.
Even small-town papers without a full-time bureau at the state Capitol realize there's more to the story.
"The releases are very easy to put online, but what I find most annoying is that they seem to neglect the legislators who created the items. I would say it is somewhat misleading," says Brennan Purtzer, editor of the Molokai Times.
Of course, there is nothing stopping a legislator from dashing out a release on what money is being spent where, but if pork barrel spending is half the battle in an election year, you have to wonder if the Democrats are ready for the fight.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org