We put people first

Democratic leaders explain why
legislators voted to override
the governor's vetoes

Gov. Linda Lingle is spending tens of thousands of tax dollars on her public relations machine: a full complement of PR professionals, television broadcasts masquerading as news, photo ops galore and even an e-newsletter packed with her pictures.

But with a stroke of her pen, she slashed $200,000 to help victims of child abuse and $150,000 for medical exams of foster children. She halved money for Kuhio Park Terrace's family center. The Maui AIDS Foundation will have $75,000 less to help its clients. Struggling Kahuku Hospital saw its grant cut by $400,000, a severe blow to its financial health (only to have the governor backpedal on her veto over the weekend). Poor children will go without dental care because $450,000 was stricken from the budget. The list of veto victims is long and the consequences to public health, safety and welfare many.

That's why the Legislature convened on Tuesday to override the governor's veto of the public service appropriations, as well as several other bills.

>> Health and human services (Senate Bill 1305).

The Legislature -- with only a single nay vote among the 76 of us -- originally appropriated $10.5 million from the so-called "rainy day" fund to support health and social service providers, a few of which we just named. The governor line-item vetoed $3.6 million of that amount, leaving many of these organizations with only a fraction of what they require to serve the sick, the poor, the frail and abused.

We overrode her veto for a fundamental reason: People are in need and we -- we Democrats, at least -- will not turn our backs on them.

(We also had to override her veto to correct errors she made. The governor made her line-item vetoes and signed the bill into law as Act 215. By the time she decided to retract her vetoes of Kahuku Hospital and two other agencies, the law was in place and could not be changed unilaterally. The Legislature's actions were necessary for her and the state to fulfill its obligations to those organizations.)

Yes, the state is experiencing budget problems. But contrary to the governor's simplified budget explanations, this appropriation comes from a separate, "rainy day" account that has no impact on the state's tax coffers. Besides, given the state's financial condition, helping the needy and disadvantaged certainly qualifies as a justifiable use of the "rainy day" fund.

Our financial support also relieves a burden that would otherwise fall on government agencies. The Na Keiki Law Center, for example, was one of the programs affected. It saved the state at least $600,000 last year in foster care costs, as well as handled cases that would otherwise have been assumed by Child Protective Services, the attorney general and Judiciary. The cessation of its services would only add to the caseload of overburdened, overworked public servants.

The Lingle administration waited until the last minute to send us some legal interpretations of our actions. But we believe that waiting for lawyers and judges to decide on the countless intricacies of the law would have placed the needy in jeopardy, and that's why we pursued an override.

>> Legislative auditor (House Bill 282).

The governor reneged on a campaign promise in vetoing a measure enabling the legislative auditor to be reimbursed for the cost of financial audits.

In her "New Beginning" campaign manifesto, Linda Lingle said she would authorize a financial audit of the state government in her first 180 days in office. While she may have been mistaken in that promise (only the Legislature can order an audit) and wrong in her contention that we didn't override Gov. Ben Cayetano's veto of a similar bill last year (there were significant differences between the two), we're willing to overlook those errors. What surprised us is that we were giving her a tool to fulfill her campaign promise, but she rejected it for budgetary reasons, adding that "if the Legislature wants the legislative auditor to conduct more audits of executive branch agencies, it should appropriate sufficient funds directly for that purpose."

The Legislature overrode the governor's veto in order to help her administration maintain fiscal discipline in state government, as she vowed in her state-of-the-state address. This bill passed by a 72-4 margin.

>> Farm land for farming (Senate Bill 255).

The governor sounded like a major booster of agriculture on the campaign trail, but her promises have rung hollow. Not only did she veto two bills that would have granted money for crop research by the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, but she opposed a measure that would have prevented gentlemen farmers from placing restrictions on farm land.

The problem the Legislature sought to address was the proliferation of residential homes, gentleman farmer estates and gated communities on lands zoned as agricultural, and the resulting restrictions on farm lands by the landowners. This measure passed unanimously.

Farmers from Kekaha to Honokaa have written legislators urging us to override this veto, and we did so. We have ensured that agricultural land remains in the hands of farmers, and taken an important step in supporting the progress of the diversified agriculture industry.

>> Binding arbitration (Senate Bill 768).

We upheld a measure that will require binding arbitration for public employees in several bargaining units, whenever an impasse is reached in labor negotiations. We believe the disruption in government services resulting from a strike would not be in the public's interest. Forcing employers and employees to put their demands before an impartial arbitrator would enable all parties, and the public, to benefit.

>> Air ambulance (Senate Bill 745).

The governor vetoed an effort to establish an air ambulance service for Maui County, a county of three islands, small and far-flung communities, and one trauma center in Central Maui. Unlike the previous measures, this one does have budget implications -- but it also has life-or-death consequences.

This measure proposes to take a total of $1 million from the general fund (tax revenues) to establish aeromedical services and an accompanying ground ambulance on Maui. Maui County would be required to match the aeromedical service portion of the bill to the tune of roughly $600,000. The bill reflects the initiative and hard work of Maui residents, who worked long and hard to bring the proposal this far.

While the governor vetoed the bill because of its impact on the budget, the money would not be released until July 2004, giving the county and Department of Health the legal authorization and plenty of time to plan for this operation, while also giving time for the economy and budget situation to improve. The residents of Maui County deserve no less.

>> Korean War veterans (Senate Bill 317).

Governor Lingle, again citing the state budget, vetoed a $30,000 unanimously approved general-fund appropriation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. The irony of the veto is that the 17,000 Hawaii veterans of the "Forgotten War" will be forgotten once again if this money is not forthcoming.

The Hawaii Department of Defense announced on the eve of the veto override that it found $18,000 in its budget to help with the observance. We wish they had offered that money while the Legislature was still in session a few weeks ago. Just to be safe, we overrode her veto so the courage and sacrifices of our Korean-era soldiers will not be ignored for the sake of budgetary expedience.

We share Governor Lingle's concern over the state budget. But of the vetoes we overrode, only the small sum to honor our Korean War veterans will have an immediate impact on the financial plan. The money to help the needy is from the rainy day fund, not the general fund, and the Maui air ambulance funds will not be due for another year.

We, unlike the governor, are optimistic that the economy and the state's financial situation will improve in the months to come. If not, the governor can restrict money when necessary, as every governor before her has done. This would be a more judicious course of action to take rather than the unnecessary, sweeping cuts and vetoes she made as some sort of demonstration of her power and policies.

The governor seems to have made her veto decisions in a vacuum, unaware or uncaring of the needs and hopes of the community. Her vetoes give strong evidence of a governor pursuing a policy of unilateral decision-making, one that ignores the exhaustive and co-equal legislative process, the bipartisan unanimity of our voting, and the fact that we, too, represent the people of Hawaii.

Robert Bunda, D-22th (Wahiawa- North Shore), is president of the Senate. Calvin Say, D-20th (Palolo), is speaker of the House.


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