Lingle criticizes effort
to cut liaison post

The Senate budget chairman questions
the tourism job's funding and creation

Gov. Linda Lingle called it "politics," but Senate Ways and Means Chairman Brian Taniguchi said cutting funding for Lingle's Cabinet-level tourism liaison office is an attempt to economize in tight times.

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Lingle issued a statement yesterday criticizing the elimination of $164,942 in the budget to pay for tourism liaison Marsha Wienert's office in the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Wienert said she learned of the news Wednesday and that it caught her by complete surprise.

"I'm challenged with understanding the reasoning behind it," she said yesterday. "For the first time ever, there's a bridge between the state's No. 1 industry and the state government."

She added, "Hopefully the industry understands the need for my position that I hold and will rise up and support me and we can get this reversed."

Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa) said Lingle proposed that Wienert's office be paid for with money that would have gone to vacant positions in the department, while the Senate's policy to help balance the state budget has been to delete funding for positions vacant for more than six months.

"There is an argument that this is redundant" because Wienert's work duplicates the work of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and therefore the funding would be of a lower priority, Taniguchi said.

There also was concern that Lingle had created a Cabinet-level position in her administration without any Senate confirmation as is required for other Cabinet members, he said.

"The elimination of the tourism liaison position is politics at its worst and shows a tremendous shortsightedness on the part of the Senate Democrats," Lingle said.

"It's irresponsible for the Senate to eliminate funding for a position that is so critical to the future of our state's No. 1 industry."

Wienert said she did not know for sure, but she had heard secondhand that her appointment had "rubbed some people the wrong way."

"It was a Cabinet position that was not approved by the Senate and there was some concern," she said. "But the law does not say that they have to confirm my appointment because I don't have a department."

The governor said that before she named Wienert the tourism liaison in June 2003, there was no coordinated effort between the visitor industry, the state administration and the community.

With Wienert in the position, "communications have never been better between the visitor industry, the executive branch and the departments," Lingle said.

Wienert's position was funded in the House version of the budget bill and the funding will be on the agenda for House and Senate budget negotiators, who were scheduled to hold their first meeting last night.

Taniguchi said instead of creating a position in the Governor's Office with a direct line item appropriation, the administration "kind of patched together some funding" from vacant positions in DBEDT.

"So basically, we just denied the transfer of those moneys from existing vacant positions," he said.

"We said, 'If you're not using it for that (vacant) position, then apparently you don't need that position and we're not going to allow that money to be used for that purpose,'" Taniguchi said.

He also brought up the issue of a lack of funding in Lingle's proposed budget to pay for public employee collective bargaining and binding arbitration pay raises.

"Based on that, we had to take a stricter look at the vacancies," Taniguchi said.

Hawaii Hotel Association President Murray Towill had not heard about Wienert's position being eliminated until yesterday, but said he hopes legislators change their minds.

"I would hope that the budget process moves forward and that money gets restored," Towill said. "Marsha was a real asset."


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