Lingle criticized for holding UH funds
HILO » Big Island Democratic legislators held an "informational briefing" yesterday, with about 50 community college students and staff criticizing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle for not releasing $18.2 million in development money.
At issue are three Hawaii Community College campuses, one in Hilo that is old and decaying badly, and two others in the conceptual stage only, one in Hilo and the other in Kona.
In 2004, the Legislature appropriated $6.95 million for design and $11.26 million for infrastructure for proposed new campuses in Hilo and Kona.
"My basic concern is that I don't really understand what's being planned on the Big Island as it relates to the existing community college campus, the new planned campus (in Hilo) and the replacement of the learning center on West Hawaii and what I hope for, which is a true community college in West Hawaii," Lingle said.
A first increment of the West Hawaii campus would be built free on state land by a private company, Hiluhilu Development, in exchange for development rights on Hiluhilu's own land bordering the state land. The arrangement has never been tried by the university system before.
"I don't understand the deal that's going on between a private developer and the university," Lingle said.
Lingle will meet Nov. 13 with UH President David McClain, Hawaii Community College Chancellor Rockne Freitas and others.
The Democratic legislators weren't buying Lingle's explanation, saying she has a history of withholding money for projects, although Rep. Bob Herkes (Upper Puna-Kau-South Kona) noted that all governors withhold some money.
Republicans, in turn, weren't buying the view that the Democrats were merely interested in education.
"To raise this issue now, one week before the general election when they've never discussed it with me before, indicates that their moves are political," Lingle's statement said.
College staff, showing pictures of decaying toilet stalls, rotting wooden walls and rusting pipes, told of the desperate need for improvement at the Hilo campus, built in the 1940s.
College information specialist Doodie Downs said she didn't blame Lingle for delaying the money. "I believe she's a wise woman, and if she saw how it is over here, she would release the money," Downs said.
The decaying campus is inviting a lawsuit, Downs said. "Do you want to pay $18 million to one person (in a lawsuit) or do you want to pay $18 million to build a campus?" she asked.
One of Lingle's concerns is that the $18.2 million is just a down payment on an estimated total of $237 million for the two new campuses.
"It's not clear where the funding will come from," she said. "I need to be able to explain to an average person what is the public benefit if we spend this money."
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this story.