Funding failure reveals lawmakers' hypocrisy on higher ed
The Legislature has turned away construction bonds to start work on a Leeward campus for the University of Hawaii.
IF state lawmakers are truly committed to providing opportunities for higher education to young people on Oahu's Leeward coast, they should show them the money. The Democratic-dominated Legislature's failure to authorize $30 million in construction bonds to start work on a West Oahu campus
for the University of Hawaii unveils the pretense politicians pitch when they talk fervently about the importance of a college education.
Instead of determining what could benefit generations of Hawaii's aspiring students, arbitrary decisions based on personal relationships, jealous perceptions that one lawmaker or the other would get credit for bringing home the bacon and partisan politics seem the criteria.
The construction bonds would have set the ball rolling, paying for roads and utility work and other infrastructure for the new campus in Kapolei.
It had the support of Governor Lingle and many in the Senate, where late in the legislative session a proposal to give the university $16.7 million for construction seemed secure. The House's budget proposal would have authorized the university to spend about $200 million of its own money for the campus.
But in the end, there was no money, no bond approval and no rational explanation from key lawmakers. Clayton Hee, Senate higher education chairman, called the outcome "inexplicable" since he apparently had been assured of the funding. Sen. Brian Kanno perplexingly said "maybe some legislators may not have understood" that the state's financial assistance was needed.
What appears more likely is an unwillingness in the House to give a Republican governor a notch in her belt going into November's election, and a notion that too much money and too many government projects were going to the Kapolei region.
The university has creatively arranged a private-public partnership in which costs for building would be shared through leases and sales for housing and retail development. When proposed last year, the project's price tag was estimated at $100 million. Today, that has ballooned to about $160 million.
The campus is sorely needed, not only to relieve the pressure on the Manoa campus, but to expand the university's scope to a region historically disadvantaged. Though Manoa is less than 20 miles away, it is a world apart from many Leeward young people, socially and psychologically.
The percentage of Leeward students who go to college is but a fifth of those who live in East Honolulu, and part of this is due to a notion that higher education is unreachable. A West Oahu campus might be seen as just a group of buildings, but it also is a tangible representation of educational opportunity.
Legislators' failure to see beyond their own ambitions is unconscionable.