Thursday, March 4, 1999

Mayor’s budget makes
risky assumptions

THE Harris administration's proposed city-county budget contains solutions to the projected shortfall but they are problematic. For example, will the City Council -- and the public -- go along with the imposition of a garbage pickup fee? The mayor points out that most U.S. cities charge for garbage collection, and the proposed fee for Honolulu, $2.20 per week, is much lower than most. Also, a fee would make the system more equitable because apartment owners don't get garbage pickup service although they pay for it through the property tax. However, introducing a fee that people aren't used to paying is politically risky.

Moreover, Harris is relying on the state Legislature to approve proposals to help the counties in order to fund $30 million in employee pay increases. These proposals include exempting the counties from the state excise tax and allowing them to keep money from traffic fines, which now goes to the state. But there is no assurance that the Legislature will approve those requests, which have been made before without success, when the state is wrestling with its own fiscal problems.

The budget proposes "revenue-neutral" real property tax rates -- a euphemism for a rate increase. What this means is that the rates will go up to compensate for declining assessments. The purpose is to generate the same amount of revenue as the previous year. Without the increase there would be a projected $27 million drop in tax collections.

The rates obviously would have to be raised even higher without the garbage pickup fee and proposed increases in existing fees. Harris figured that increasing property tax rates was his least popular option, so he proposed raising them by a minimal amount and calling the hike "revenue-neutral."

Declining real estate assessments in the weak economy of recent years have cut sharply into the city's finances. The mayor and the Council are struggling to keep city services operating in a difficult fiscal climate. There are no easy answers. But counting on the state Legislature to bail the city out could be a big mistake.


Disabled children

WHEN Congress enacted a law in 1975 requiring school systems to provide appropriate education to children with disabilities, it agreed to foot a large part of the bill. The federal government has reneged on that promise but still expects school districts to meet the law's requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding the law should prompt remedial legislation, including significant increases in federal assistance.

The case before the high court involved the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school district's refusal to provide extensive assistance to a teen-aged boy with severe spinal injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident when he was 4 years old. The assistance involves having a personal attendant within hearing distance of him at all times to provide for his health-care needs.

The Supreme Court focused on whether the urinary catheterization, suctioning the boy's tracheotomy, repositioning his wheelchair, monitoring his blood pressure and other procedures amount to medical treatment, which is not covered under the law, or are regarded as school health services or supportive services, which the law requires.

A more troublesome question is who pays the tab. The Iowa school district estimates the cost of providing services for the Cedar Rapids youth at between $28,630 and $39,810 a year, while the boy's family maintains it would be $18,000. Regardless of the total cost, the federal share of funding for special education services is only $413 a year for each child served.

The Iowa case is an extreme example of the burden that the 1975 law has placed on school districts, including Hawaii. Doug Houck, head of the state Department of Education's special education section, says the federal share of funding to provide services for disabled students in Hawaii has been 7 percent, although the federal government has said it would provide 40 percent.

Schools are operated and funded locally. Congressional mandates on how they should be operated should be accompanied by adequate funding. That federal assistance has been lacking in the area of providing services for disabled children.


Police admission

MALAYSIA'S reputation as a country that respected the rule of law has been further tarnished with the admission of the former national police chief that he beat the former deputy prime minister in his prison cell.

The former deputy premier, Anwar Ibrahim, had been arrested on apparently trumped-up charges of corruption and sexual crimes after breaking with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on economic policy issues.

Police Chief Abdul Rahim Noor, who resigned last month to take responsibility for the police's handing of Anwar, admitted through his lawyer Sunday that he hit the former cabinet member in his cell on the night of his arrest last September.

On Monday two senior police officers testified before an investigative commission that they had to restrain Rahim from hitting Anwar again. Yesterday they testified that Rahim ordered Anwar handcuffed and blindfolded before beating him. Their statements contradicted the police chief's claim that he beat Anwar only after the politician provoked him with insults.

Anwar has maintained that the charges against him are part of a plot by cronies of Prime Minister Mahathir to stop him from challenging Mahathir's 18-year rule.

If the government has learned anything from this incident, it will prosecute Rahim and drop the charges against Anwar. Otherwise people will be justified in viewing Malaysia as just another police state.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin