Hawaii projects receiving big federal dollars (depicted in the gold coins above) include the USS Arizona renovation, the PanSTARRS telescope array and the Maui supercomputer. illustration by bryant fukutomi, star-bulletin
‘King of Pork’ also delivers isle perks
Inouye defends use of earmarks as a necessary step in politics
Earmarks remain part of culture in Congress
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye has found his seniority to be a valuable asset for the state.
Inouye, called "The King of Pork" by detractors, defends his use of earmarks -- the inclusion of additions to the federal budget that are not requested by the federal government -- as a necessary part of the legislative process.
According to a ranking by Taxpayers for Common Sense, Inouye is fourth among the 100 senators with $229,083,500 in appropriations designated as earmarks.
His close friend Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is No. 1 with $387 million.
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As the third most senior member of the U.S. Senate, Hawaii's Dan Inouye has found that his seniority also is a valuable asset for the state.
Inouye, called by detractors "The King of Pork," defends his use of earmarks, or the inclusion of additions to the federal budget that are not requested by the federal government as a necessary part of the legislative process.
Asked about the process of earmarks last year when new House leaders said they wanted to curtail the use, Inouye said: "The U.S. Constitution provides for the budget to be written by Congress."
According to a ranking prepared by Taxpayers for Common Sense, Inouye is fourth among the 100 senators with $229,083,500 in appropriations designated as earmarks.
Inouye's close friend Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is No. 1 with $387 million in earmarks.
Critics of the system point out that Stevens and Inouye routinely switch off as leaders of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, one of the most powerful committees for funneling earmarks to a home state.
Winslow Wheeler, a 30-year veteran congressional staff member, is critical of how Inouye and Stevens operate.
"Even though Sen. Inouye is very courteous and low-key and well-liked and respected by his colleagues, his operation played the same grubby game that Sen. Steven's operations played," said Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project with the Center for Defense Information.
Wheeler says Inouye and Stevens let it be known that senators are expected to support the pair's appropriation bills and, if they do not, their own earmarks will not be approved.
"The staff would say every single year I was there: 'Remember, if you didn't help us last year, if you voted against our bill last year, don't expect a whole lot from us this year,'" Wheeler said.
"It is extortion," charged Wheeler, the author of two books, "The Wastrels of Defense" and "Military Reform."
Mike Yuen, Inouye's press secretary called it "grossly unfair and incorrect" to say Inouye and Stevens are heavy-handed.
Inouye, Yuen said, relies on a senator's own judgment because that senator knows "how a state's needs and interests best dovetail with national needs and interests."
"It doesn't make sense that those who don't go along with the Senate's defense bill are punished," Yuen said. "Hardly anyone votes against the defense funding measure, so who is targeted for punishment?"
U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye's 2008 earmarks includes $7 million for an electrical system at Hickam Air Force Base.
Aaron Saunders, Stevens' press secretary, added that when Stevens was subcommittee chairman, "He went out of his way to consult with members of both parties to address their needs."
"This is not some bill that emerges from a dark room, it is done with the members of the appropriation committee ... the appropriations bill is the result of a collaborative process, it is done with broad bipartisan support," Saunders said.
Yuen noted, "What the senator (Inouye) does is find projects that have benefit for Hawaii and the nation. Also, don't forget, a lot of these earmarks are for reoccurring projects,"
Many of the Inouye-sponsored projects are for well-known projects, such as engineering for the city's mass transit system, a program to keep the brown tree snake from sneaking aboard aircraft in Guam and infesting Hawaii, and a Maui telescope to search for possible killer asteroids.
Earmarks are critical for Hawaii's economy, said state House Speaker Calvin Say, estimating that federal money makes up about a quarter of the state's overall spending.
"I depend on our congressional delegation to get these federal earmarks for our respective four counties," said Say. "Earmarks help the state government in meeting the needs of our community.
"From the fisheries of NOAA to the Department of Education to human services and housing -- every gamut the people of Hawaii can think of, there is some attachment to federal aid," he added. "If it wasn't for our four congressional delegation members, we would not be in a very good situation as far as our economy."
$4 million to improve habitats at Kawainui Marsh.
While earmarks in Hawaii are mostly associated with military spending, other groups and organizations benefit as well.
Catholic Charities of Hawaii received $196,000 to help with the renovation of a recently acquired Makiki property intended for use as a social services community center, according to a list of earmarks compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The $28 million Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, which was built with the help of federal money, received $1.3 million this year to help cover operations.
"Without these funds we would not have been able to create the center, which is now a major educational resource for our community, with particular interest to school children statewide," said Gloria Chun Hoo, marketing manager for the center.
Earmarks for the Honolulu Police Department included $446,500 for the Forensic Laboratory and $893,000 for improvement to the crime lab.
"It's very important for us because through it we're able to purchase analytical instruments we need," said Joanne Masada, director of the Forensic Laboratory. "We're undergoing renovation and expansion. Our goal is to actually expand and to hire personnel and with that you need the infrastructure, which is of course, the space and the instruments."
Local groups say the earmarks are important, but only part of the funding picture.
"Although the earmarked funds are critical, it is imperative that we ensure a sustainable future for our organization by diversifying our funding to include state funding, foundation grants and earned income," Imiloa's Chun Hoo said.