Wading in politicos' ways reveals muck and murk


POSTED: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The state Capitol's two ponds encompass 80,000 square feet of some of Hawaii's murkiest water, but they are crystal clear in comparison to the turbid legislation and governance in the building rising from the ponds.

While transparency is a promise on the lips of every legislator and governor, no sooner do you hear the word then know it is growing dimmer.

This year the legislators fought the no-win battle of their pay raises. The history was pure opportunistic muck. A salary commission recommended pay raises for lawmakers, judges, the governor and Cabinet. If the Legislature didn't reject it, the raises would flow.

In 2007, the panel met, held public meetings without telling the public when or where the meetings were, briefed the Legislature and governor in private with no public notification, and amazingly the governor and Legislature said not a word as pay raises totaling $20 million by 2014 started rolling in. What's not secret about that?

The Legislature was equally opaque in its handling of the state budget, which was partially balanced with a $40 million change that resulted in drivers paying an excise tax on top of the state, county and federal fuel taxes. The tax had always been on the books, but since 1980 it had been exempted.

This year the exemption was set to expire and the Legislature moved to make the exemption permanent, but while the bill was sitting in conference committee—poof!—the exemption disappeared and so did the $40 million from your wallet. A tax not charged since 1980 is basically a new tax, except this is one you couldn't see coming and, like the pay raise, legislators can say they didn't vote for it.

It's not just the Legislature hiding your money in the dark. In 2007, the Legislature required that Gov. Linda Lingle create a searchable database for grants and contracts. It gave Lingle until January of this year to do it. Lingle didn't, and now the national Sunshine Review notes that it doesn't appear Lingle has any plans to comply.

Twenty-four states have searchable budgets on-line, meaning you can easily find out how these state spend tax money. If you want to see how it is done go to the Missouri Accountability Portal at http://www.mapyourtaxes.mo. gov/MAP/portal. Seven of the states even let you search for employee salaries by name. Not Hawaii.

The next time a Hawaii governor or legislator says they are in favor of government transparency, tell them you can see right through them.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).