Wednesday, April 8, 2009


SIDESTEPPING THE OOZE: A stroll down Main Street, Anytown USA these days expose one to a panorama of boarded up windows and, with people furious at Washington over the federal bank bailouts and executive bonuses, the only store doing business is Ernie’s Pitchfork Sharpening and Torch Fuel Emporium.

Yet here on Kaua`i the we mushroom’s don’t seem to care we are being kept in the dark and fed a bunch of horse manure.

The Kaua`i County 2009-10 budget hearings are once again being conducted out of public view despite what sources say is the availability of funding for televising the all important sessions.

Despite promises by at least two councilmembers to make it their business to get them on pubic access TV, all powerful Chair Kaipo “the Minotaur” Asing, is apparently intent on, as the song says, keeping the dark as dark as can be and doing what’s wrong as long as he can.

But at least the local paper has seen fit this year to provide extensive cover of the first two sessions. In doing so reporter Michael Levine has highlighted how local governments like ours on Kaua`i are taking advantage of the so called “federal stimulus” money to stimulate nothing and rather, simply free up money already designated for essential services to spend, at best, on some “nice to have” but less than urgent needs of the people and at worst, paybacks for backing from well connected corrupt cronies and fat cat campaign contributors and supporters.

This highlights the absurdity of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act- aka the stimulus bill- as we discussed a couple of months ago and the whole issue of “earmarks” which somehow has become the dirtiest word in national politics.

For those who can’t remember the whole idea of the stimulus bill was to add to, not supplant, money for actual “shovel-ready” projects that state and local governments would not normally be able to fund, with a bottom line of “creating jobs”.

But instead of allowing our duly elected representatives to designate these projects in the bill, because of the media-directed populist denigration of these “earmarks”, the bill instead just divides up $700 million among the various state and local jurisdictions to essentially use as they please.

In our Feb 17 column we detailed the projects Kaua`i designated for the “stimulus” funding showing how most were projects already in the pipeline and in most cases already funded, demonstrating how they simply freed up money for other things, whether essential or not, in the budget rather than making the tough choices on how to spend limited resources in a time of decreased revenues.

And sure enough Levine tell us that’s exactly what at least one of not all councilmembers are planning. Levine writes:

Budget and Finance Committee Chair Daryl Kaneshiro, who led the meeting, said potential stimulus funds should be looked at largely as a means of assistance, arguing the council should not rely heavily on the help it might receive from the federal government as it makes budgeting decisions.

Councilman Tim Bynum disagreed, saying the ARRA funds are “not just gravy” and will be an integral part of the county’s general fund, encouraging all departments to take a serious look at evolving stimulus grants for any and all opportunities.

“In the past, Kaua`i has not gotten its fair share of state and federal funds because we didn’t stand up and ask for them,” he said. “You have not because you ask not.

”Using county funds to finance programs that could be covered by stimulus grants with the expectation that if the stimulus funds eventually come through, the county funds can be moved elsewhere is dangerous because it could remove the motivation for departments to push hard for those grants, Bynum said, citing “the human factor.”
We don’t doubt that this same thought is driving local government budgets across the nation. It certainly is doing so statewide as our governor and legislature have been anything but shy about using the money to “balance the budget” rather than to “create jobs”.

They are actually taking the money and eliminating jobs by trying to balance the budget by carving savings out of the butts of their employees, setting the worst possible example for the business community by emulating the penchant for making human resources the most expendable.

But while the cruel businessperson discards their formerly “valued employees” like a dirty dishrag in order to maintain enough profits so the owner doesn’t have to forgo that ivory backscratcher he had his eye on, politicians use the excess to maintain that “free lunch” that comes with the demand for more services in one breath and lower taxes in the next.

Recovery and Reinvestment Act? More like another Incumbency Preservation Act.

Its all thanks to the Play-Dough-Factory type results of congress’s capitulation to the “earmark equals pork” fervor resulting in their refusal to specifically designate funding for important local projects that are politically tough but absolutely essential- something our congresspersons and senators should be well aware of if they are doing they representational jobs correctly.

Sure the system is abused by the corrupt to pay off campaign contributors. But the vast majority of earmarks are used for things like this week’s $5 million plus in monk seal protection funds that came from the federal government.

While these projects might be ridiculed by other jurisdictions they are often needed and popular but orphan projects locally.

What happens is that while we are busy hand-wringing over the potential for corruption by our federal representatives- where the scrutiny is magnified 100 times by all the public interest groups and investigative reporters from all over the country concentrated on the national’s capitol- the potential for a thousand crooked flowers to bloom at the local level remains unscrutinized and virtually unchecked.

As Levine wrote:

With essentially no members of the public in attendance and the Ho`ike television cameras powered off and covered up, the seven-member council started its work on likely its most important function and the task its members are elected primarily to manage: divvying out more than $150 million in projected expenditures for the year starting July 1.

While many scream for “home rule” the fact remains that the closer to home the government entity, the more the opportunity for corruption.

And on Kaua`i, where no one shows up and the machinations of the council’s budget sessions are out-of-sight, out-of-mind, where corruption is rampant and incumbency virtually guarantees re-election as long as it serves the greedy desires of the revolving-door, inbred, nepotistic barons, you can bet that as the finances shake-out the “stimulus money” will go directly into the pockets of the shake-down constituency.

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