Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Bishop Museum needs
more state support

Bullet The issue: The Bishop Museum is experiencing a financial crisis.
Bullet Our view: The museum is a precious asset that deserves more state financial support.

A treasure of inestimable value to Hawaii is endangered. The Bishop Museum, a unique repository of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural and natural history, is in financial crisis. Faced with the prospect of a $1 million shortfall in the $10 million annual budget, museum administrators laid off 20 staff members in February. Layoffs also occurred in 1995 and 1998. Free access to museum collections for researchers has been abolished and a fee schedule is being considered.

The Bishop Museum is a world-renowned institution but its educational value to Hawaii's people is of pre-eminent importance. Because of the name Bishop, it is widely believed that the museum is supported by the Bishop Estate. That is not true. The museum was established separately by Charles Reed Bishop, husband of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and is supported by his relatively small trust.

In recent years the museum has built up its membership and attracted thousands of visitors through the importation of exhibits from mainland institutions as well as fresh exhibits of Hawaiiana. It has also done archaelogical studies on a contract basis. These efforts have raised the museum's profile in the community but have not solved the financial problem.

In 1988 the Legislature belatedly recognized the institution's significance by giving it the title of "state museum" and providing for an annual appropriation. However, no minimum appropriation was required. The appropriation has dwindled from $2.5 million in 1993 to $350,000 this year.

The proposed state budget includes a $381,000 subsidy. The museum is hoping for additional grants totaling $756,000.

Even in this period of fiscal stringency, the Legislature should find the money for this vital purpose. It is appalling that the legislators seem ready to approve appropriations to fund pay raises for government employees while they are willing to let the staff of the Bishop Museum be decimated for lack of state financial support.

Where are the Hawaiian leaders? The Bishop Museum is unrivaled in its collections of Hawaiian history. Hawaiian activists are focused on squeezing money out of the University of Hawaii budget to provide tuition waivers for Hawaiian students -- which the UH can't afford and which could be provided by the Bishop Estate and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. But they are silent on the plight of the Bishop Museum.


Tobacco award

Bullet The issue: The state is getting another $203 million from its settlement with the tobacco industry and is considering what to do with the $1.3 billion award.
Bullet Our view: Smoking prevention and control programs should receive top priority.

IT'S always nice to learn that you're getting some money you didn't expect. That's the case with the state of Hawaii, which has been informed that it will receive another $203 million from its settlement with the tobacco industry. This is in addition to the $1.1 billion previously announced.

But the extra money doesn't mean the state's current fiscal problems are solved or that it can go on a spending binge. The funds will be paid over 25 years.

The question is what they will be spent on. C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. surgeon general, said over the weekend that every cent should be spent on smoking prevention and control programs. But that isn't likely to happen. Governor Cayetano wants to put half the settlement in a state rainy-day fund and give the rest to the Health Department. The department plans to give half of its share to the Department of Human Services to help pay for the Children's Health Insurance Program for uninsured children. The remainder would go for smoking prevention and cessation programs, nutrition and exercise programs.

It's hard to believe that $1.3 billion could usefully be spent on smoking programs in Hawaii, but those programs should be given top priority in determining the disposition of the award. The rest of the money should go to other health-related programs, perhaps including insurance for uninsured children. The state should find money for its rainy-day fund somewhere else.


California gas prices

Bullet The issue: California gas prices have surpassed Hawaii's.
Bullet Our view: The state's antitrust suit against the oil companies should provide answers regarding the factors behind the high prices here.

Hawaii's claim to the highest gasoline prices in the country has been overtaken. That dubious honor currently belongs to California. The average price for regular unleaded in California is $1.639 a gallon, according to analyst Trilby Lundberg. That's a 43.11-cent increase in three weeks. Honolulu's average price was $1.449 cents.

Seasonal demand, OPEC reductions in oil production and explosions at state refineries were cited as explanations for the sharp jump in California prices. Meanwhile the national average rose 14 cents. Hawaii, where prices had been coming down, has yet to feel the pinch.

Meanwhile the state continues to pursue its antitrust suit against the oil companies, claiming billions of dollars in illegal profits. The companies, while denying any wrongdoing, have never fully explained why wholesale gas prices have been so high here for so long.

If nothing else, the lawsuit should provide a clearer explanation for the decades-long disparity in gas prices between Hawaii and the mainland.

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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

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