Saturday, July 07, 2007


The battle (with the governor) to take back Hawaii's streets

The people have spoken, and with a loud voice. We want our streets back for walking and bicycling, and we want our kupuna safe from injury and death when they venture outside.

Now it appears that saving lives will be subordinated to a political squabble.

A City Charter amendment to remake Honolulu as a pedestrian and bike-friendly city passed by a landslide (78% approval) in the last election. In a "Kids Vote Hawaii" poll last November 85% of the kids wanted every city in Hawaii to be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. And happily, the Legislature responded by passing SB1191, which allocates $1.5 million for each of the next two years to make the necessary crosswalk and roadway improvements that both the city and state have so far declined to do.  SB1191 is only a beginning, and we need to begin.

Governor Lingle put the bill on her veto list. Worse, it was reported yesterday at a meeting of the Kupuna Caucus that the governor would not release the funds should the legislature override her veto. The explanation is that the money should not be taken out of the state highway fund. The elderly--and Hawaii's kids--may lose out unless we find a way to convince the governor to do what's right.

This certainly seems to be a case of "let the people be damned." Is the governor saying it's ok to continue the years-old neglect of Hawaii's road safety infrastructure? Although an AARP survey conducted over a year ago identified dangerous intersections throughout the state, nothing was done to correct them and save lives.

Hawaii still holds the regrettable distinction as the most dangerous state for elderly pedestrians (people age 60 and older). Yes, we're number one on the wrong list. These deaths and injuries are largely avoidable. The state has been negligent in not making the corrections even without legislative action, but the stonewalling apparent during legislative hearings and now the governor's refusal to proceed with the work are morally insupportable.

The legislature is entitled to set priorities for statewide projects paid for from the highway fund, and it has asked for only $1.5 million a year for two years. At the same time, lawmakers approved a one-cent increase in the gasoline license tax that would bring in about $14 million, more than enough to offset the small sum needed to protect pedestrians. The highway fund currently stands at about $92 million.

What to do? I hope readers will call the governor (586-0034) to ask her not to veto SB1191. Also call or email your state representatives, Speaker of the House Calvin Say (586-6100) and Senate President Hanabusa (586-7793) to ask the the veto be overridden.

That won't be the end of it, of course, but it's essential that the pedestrian safety bill become law to begin with.

What to do when the governor withholds funds? That's a tougher problem. From her first year, Lingle has had a pattern of approving tax breaks while vetoing appropriations or withholding funds from essential social service programs. Only after community outcry was $500,000 released for Kupuna Care, which provides a variety of services for vulnerable seniors including meals and housecleaning when they are released from hospitals. Without these services, expenses are higher if seniors are retained in a hospital or must be returned later. Lingle coughed up the money only days before the November 2006 election.

There are many more unfortunate examples.

Perhaps the legislature should consider a bill next session to remove her power to withhold funds. Currently, by statute, she may withhold funds for two reasons: if money is not available, or for policy reasons. The Legislature could remove or restrict the governor's ability to withhold money for policy reasons, considering how harmful her policies have proven.

Undoubtedly that would not be the end of the matter, but it would be a clear message that when the people and their representatives get together on important issues like saving lives and making our cities more livable (or like feeding and caring for seniors in a successful program), the governor needs to acquiesce.

There's no good reason morally or politically why our elected representatives should not be able to act, as they responsibly have, to protect lives. A veto is uncalled for--in particular, when the state and city transportation departments have refused to correct dangerous intersections as they should have.

The governor should let good be done and get out of the way.


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