Boaters voice opinions on special funds
My suggestion last week that Hawaii's Legislature should help create more recreational boating facilities in the islands generated some interesting e-mail.
None of those writing disagreed with my proposal, however a couple of people added that it would also help our boating program if there were better oversight on spending from the Boating Special Fund (BSF).
As most of Hawaii's boaters know, the BSF isn't funded by the Legislature, but rather it receives funds from boating-related grants and fees, such as leases for slips, moorings, harbor-front property, and from marine fuel taxes.
And probably because it is nearly always running in the red, it hasn't been raided by the Legislature as has happened with some of the more lucrative special funds.
Still, as one reader noted, a recent state appeals court ruling regarding improper assessments and fund transfers from the state-run Insurance Regulation Fund may have a consequent effect on the practice of the Department of Land and Natural Resources funding its department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement from the BSF. Some $2 million was moved into the DOCARE budget last year alone.
The DOCARE, for those who may not recognize the name, is the law enforcement arm of the DLNR. Officially, it has full police powers and enforces all state laws and rules involving state lands, parks, historic sites, forest reserves, aquatic life and wildlife areas, coastal zones, conservation districts and shores.
But for most recreational boaters, who look instead to the Coast Guard for law enforcement as well as their safety, DOCARE is virtually a non-existent agency as its officers are usually involved in land-based operations.
At last year's confirmation hearings of DLNR's previous chairman Peter Young, it was clear that DOCARE could not explain how it spent its time and whether there was a rational relationship between the hours it spent enforcing boating rules and the amount it received from the BSF.
"However, the only people who were concerned about the gross malfeasance was the Coast Guard, as both a local partner in water safety, and as an underwriter of the recreational boating grant program," past DLNR boating division head Richard Rice told me.
And, in fact, it may have been Rice's personal concern for whether or not the amounts being charged to the BSF were reasonably proportionate to the benefits boaters received that precipitated his dismissal by Young prior to Young's own dismissal by the Legislature.
In the above-mentioned ruling, the court found that money collected for a special fund and transferred to the general fund made it an "illegal and unconstitutional tax." Might it also hold true that money collected for the BSF should not be used for non-boating-related purposes like funding game wardens or maintaining parking lots for beach-goers?
The court's ruling came from a suit filed by the Hawaii Insurers Council.
Hopefully, a similar suit by boaters won't be necessary to encourage the DLNR to recover funds misallocated from the BSF.