Lawmakers field requests for grants
The state surplus lures private groups asking legislators for funding
With the state coffers overflowing, private groups looking for help have besieged the Legislature with a record number of requests for funds, according to two key lawmakers.
In 2004 those seeking grants in aid received $27.9 million. The grants jumped to $38.8 million in 2006.
But with an estimated state surplus of $740 million, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro reports that the House budget committee that he heads has received requests for $330 million this session. About two-thirds of that is for construction projects, with the rest of the requests for operations, he said.
Oshiro says he tries to give every applicant 10 minutes but warns them not to expect a big check.
"I say, 'I don't know if you will get all of it, I don't know if you will get half or if you will get a quarter of it,'" said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho).
But these are the types of projects that legislators usually want to champion, not reject.
"Some of the requests are very worthy and very interesting, but we can not accommodate everything," said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Roz Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena).
Last year, for example, the Legislature gave $500,000 to a group helping the homeless: Helping the Hungry Have Hope. Catholic Charities got $180,000; the Hawaii Coalition of Christian Churches was given $5 million; the American Red Cross got $2 million; and the Hawaii Habitat for Humanity Association received $700,000.
Baker reports that this year, "a lot of people are looking at the surplus and say, 'Now is the time to go after it.'"
Baker is trying to fit the requests into categories that the Senate Democrats have already identified as their priorities. So, groups that are working on projects encouraging "sustainability and education" are more likely to get state help.
But the grants are supposed to be one-time payments just to help new programs get started, Baker and Oshiro said. They are not looking to encourage years of state support.
Oshiro said that groups asking for money for the first time will be favored.
"I look at first-time applicants. The program should be to help those who need some help to get going. Those that are coming back, maybe they should look at other revenue streams," Oshiro said.
Although the budget will include the grants in aid, the Legislature will first look at how to divvy up the nearly $10 billion budget among the state's departments and programs.
Then, Oshiro explained, the House and Senate budget committees will look at what changes to make in tax laws. After the budget and taxes are tallied up, the Legislature will start doling out the grants in aid.
The process is complicated by the lobbying going on by legislators who want to help programs in their districts.