Thursday, June 12, 2008


I ROLLED OVER- NOW WHERE’S MY BISCUIT: A tiny 61-word article deep in the business section of the Honolulu Advertiser announced “Lingle signs off on $10.79B budget” today.

Given the impact of such news in Hawai`i that’s pretty appropriate.

Well that would seem a capper to the crapper of the legislative budget and appropriation process. The hard fought funding battle determining who gets the taxpayers’ money to provide both vital and discretionary services went through the process of debate and decision making in the legislative branch and now the executive has signed the budget. The system has worked it’s, if not magic, at least sausage processing for another year.

All that’s left is to simply let the administration spend the money. Right?

You would think so wouldn’t ya. But in Hawai`i nothing is ever simple or as it should be.

For some inane if not insane reason the executive branch in the form of the governor gets another bite of the apple and, despite signing the budget into law, the funds may sit until the 32nd of Never at the sole discretion of the governor.

Every year everyone and everything that needs those funds expended- from schools to highways to the social services providers- sit on egg shells wondering if they will receive the money they need to operate or whether politics will cause them to wind up waiting for Godot or the electrician or someone like him.

And among those complaining most vociferously at this are the legislators who passed the appropriations. Yet astonishingly enough they are also the ones who can. with the stroke of a pen. end this French-farce that’s degenerated into an American “everyone’s lying” sit-com plot.

The provision does not stem from the State Constitution which states

Article VII- Taxation And Finance- Expenditure Controls

Section 5. Provision for the control of the rate of expenditures of appropriated state moneys, and for the reduction of such expenditures under prescribed conditions, shall be made by law

No public money shall be expended except pursuant to appropriations made by law.

So there is no Constitutional provision and as a matter of fact it is a matter of law, which means there is nothing stopping the legislature from merely ending the insane practice that has made many citizens go bonkers after spending three months at the legislature making sure a project gets funded only to find out they didn’t contribute enough to someone’s campaign to get the money they fought hard to win.

Supposedly there is a rhyme to the lack of reason- in case there is a budget shortfall or the money isn’t there. But that “excuse” is one that, like so many others in the state, seems to be a conveniently skewable based on the modern equivalent of the court soothsayers and astrologers- the Council on Revenues, which concocts consistently wrong predictions every few months.

Their notorious “damnable lies”- or statistics as they prefer to call them- make the situation bad enough when they do this in the yearly ritualistic blood-letting toward the end the legislative session turning two-and-a-half months of deliberate attempts to allocate limited funds into a final couple of weeks of crap-shooting by wiping the ledgers clean and instituting last minute slash-and-burn budgeting.

It’s like wheel of fortune where 99% of the spaces say “lose a turn”. Round and round she goes and where she stops doesn’t really matter because they may not give you your prize no matter where she stops.

But it doesn’t ever really matter what the Council say because the governor isn’t even required to rely on their numbers into account but can just seemingly state there isn’t enough money- usually meaning a crony didn’t get a cut.

Here’s the law that seemingly sticks in everyone’s craw:

§37-31 Intent and policy. It is declared to be the policy and intent of the legislature that the total appropriations made by it, or the total of any budget approved by it, for any department or establishment, shall be deemed to be the maximum amount authorized to meet the requirements of the department or establishment for the period of the appropriation, excepting as may otherwise be provided by law, and that the governor and the director of finance should be given the powers granted by sections 37-32 to 37-41 in order that savings may be effected by careful supervision throughout each appropriation period with due regard to changing conditions; and by promoting more economic and efficient management of state departments and establishments.

The various sections 37-32 to 37-41 describe certain exemptions both partial and total for certain areas and departments.

It’s easy to criticize a governor who doesn’t release funds. Especially one like the current governor who uses this privilege to exact political retribution and dictate policy regardless of the legislative process from which the funding was derived, leaving us when it comes to expenditures with essentially only one governmental branch- also known as a totalitarianism

And some say we need to bring back the monarchy. Whaddaya mean “bring back”.

But the real criticism should be reserved for those who we’ll be hearing from as the year progresses with their sack-full of belly-aching over it- the legislators who would rather sit on their port-a-potty throne and complain rather than getting off the pot and changing the law.

But then they wouldn’t be able to tell constituents “oh, we’re sorry- we did the best we could but that mean old governor won’t release the funds... it’s not our fault.” while knowing full well all along that the money they “gave” them will never see any use

Like all good pickpockets they create a diversion and do a handoff before you even know your wallet is gone. And like any good con man they leave you thinking you actually got what they stole from you and leave you thanking them for the theft.

But guess what- this change will never happen because, although the legislatures and governors have done a god job in hiding what’s really going on, the ones who are to blame are the people whose eyes glaze over whenever someone tries to tell them how they’re being scammed.

Will anyone reading this come away and think “I’ve got to talk to my representative and senator and make sure they do this next session”.

Are you kidding? It’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to acknowledge the depths of political depravity right there in front of people’s eyes- the ones which make Hawai`i the world renowned, third-world kleptocracy we all know and love

So as we see funding sit unreleased this year and hear the legislators who appropriated the money engage in the yearly hand-wring and bloviating over it you might remind them who makes and can change the law that allows this “give with one hand and take away with the other” anomaly of governance to happen in the first place.

No comments: