Friday, November 16, 2007

Why the non-releasing of funds is such a sore point...

Here's a recent dialog (11/7/07) between Think Tech host Jay Fidell and Representatives Tommy Waters, Marcus Oshiro and Kirk Caldwell on their frustration with the administration regarding releasing of funds.

Jay:
There was a fair amount of tension between the legislature and the governor this session.... The interface between the legislative and executive process, it's (the admin.) refusing to release substantial appropriations made by the 2007 legislature. So what's going on and can you help us to understand this kind of tension and why, and will it continue in the 2008 session?

Tommy:
My constituents don't really care if we're Democrat or Republican, they just want us to do a good job. As far as releasing the money is concerned, I think there is a problem. Our schools are dilapidated, our schools are falling apart. In Waimanalo, it's so sad, I helped paint the classrooms through the 3R's project. We had to move the furniture out of the way.

Jay:
You personally helped?

Tommy:
Yeah, it was such a great experience and I encourage anyone who can help, through 3R's, to do it. But when we were moving furniture, the carpet fell apart in our hands, if you can imagine, and the kids have to sit on that. And, it's shameful. It's shameful. And people in Waimanalo, they don't know what other schools have...and they think they are the stepchild and only the kids in Waimanalo have schools this bad. And the legislature appropriated, what was it Marcus, $75 million?

Marcus:
$75 million and $25 million for schools.

Jay:
$100 million altogether?

Tommy:
Yes, and the money isn't being released. And what do I tell my constituents when their kids are sitting on chairs that are broken, sitting on carpets that are so bad...

Jay:
What is the reason?

Tommy:
I don't know. I don't know.

Jay:
Is there anything you can do about it? Is there anything the legislature can do when the executive declines to implement an appropriation that all you hundreds of people decided to do?

Kirk:
It's a legal question but it's also a checks and balances, three branches of government question. It's not only a problem in our state but even at the federal level. I think the drafters of the constitution intended it that way. It's kind of like give and take. You can appropriate the money, but you can't force the executive to actually spend it....

...Think about this, and this is where we're troubled. We have a governor who is saying I don't want to release $100 million for our schools, for our children, but during the session and at the end of session she came on strong against the majority of the House and Senate for not supporting a $300 million tax break. So, she wanted to say we have enough money to return $300 million to the taxpayers, which we didn't agree with...but now there's not any money to repair our schools? Something doesn't add up.

Tommy: I beg. I've done that. When I needed money for the Waimanalo Health Center, I've begged! Please release the money. I get my constituents to write letters to the governor.

Marcus: It's 110 million dollars out there. We made it a priority. We said that we're going to put our money where our mouth is, in education, and in basic repair and maintenance in all schools statewide. And the Governor refuses to release the money.

Jay: If you made a bill that was vetoed, you could override it, and then resurrect it that way. But when you make a bill to give 110 million dollars, and it doesn't get spent, I don't understand, you can't do anything?

Marcus: That's the power of the executive branch to make the allocation and the allotment and to release the money, and execute on the legislator's public policy decision on the appropriation.

Jay: I got a question from a listener, Steve, from Punahou. It says, "DOE can't spend the money it already has, why would you appropriate more?

Marcus: Well, the 110 million dollars is cash, it's not bond financing, and cash can be easily spent, broken down by various schools and various needs to the classrooms. So the money can be spent immediately and for meaningful purposes in the classroom.

5 comments:

Steve said...

This is incredible. It's not just Waimanalo. I am a parent and I pay taxes. At first I was hopeful because Lingle talked big about cutting bureaucracy. Then I got angry because you realize that nothing has changed under this administration. Now it's just plain depressing. If this money had been released at the beginning of the fiscal year, the work would have been done by now.

Anonymous said...

It's not just schools. A lot of non-profits wait and wait for money that was appropriated by the legislature. But we're afraid to complain because we know that if we say something, we'll never get the money. It's very vindictive and I wish the legislature could do something. In fact, I've had one of the legislators call the state agency to find out why the funds were not being released, and they wouldn't even answer the legislator for months. It's bad.

Anonymous said...

Both of these comments are so true. I know that I am speaking from a sense of frustration, however, this fact can simply can not negate the truth of an out of touch executive.

sandwich said...

Tommy Waters said it best: It's shameful. I can't believe the stuff this lady gets away with. Lamenting failed tax breaks, but holding on to school money - shameful indeed.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that there's no way an imaginative draftsperson couldn't put some limits on the Governor's discretion in releasing funds, as for example by a proviso that "of the $X million appropriated to the Department of Education for maintenance of buildings, no funds shall be expended until not less than $Y million has been expended for repairs to Waimanalo Elementary School" (where $X is greater than $Y). Hawaii's Democrats still haven't learned how to operate with a hostile governor, and I suspect that you haven't fully explored methods whereby imaginative draftsmanship can be used to ensure that funding decisions reflect your priorities, not hers.