Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Budget bumbling—can the Legislature fix what the Governor has botched?
by Larry Geller
Tomorrow (Wednesday) we’ll be able to assess the damage. Not from Felicia. From Linda. Felicia, the storm, has crept into town softly, even as Linda, the governor, leaving a path of destruction in her wake, has headed off to the Mainland to play Republican’s Republican.
The Legislature is holding a hearing tomorrow (details below) on the state’s financial situation, including cost reductions put into effect by Governor Lingle.
“Cost reductions.” How innocent that sounds. Layoffs. Unfortunate alternatives to furloughs. Too bad they were necessary. All must share the burden.
Isn’t that fair?
Not when the executive uses the economic crisis to selectively shut down departments by means of layoffs.
For example, through layoffs, Lingle shut down the Hawaii Film Office. A letter in the Star-Bulletin complained:
…In addition to processing a record number of film permits last year, it was instrumental in helping productions process Act 88 tax credits, which were intended to serve as an incentive for these productions to film here. How do you think Hollywood will take it when it finds out that Lingle is eliminating the Film Office? Millions of dollars to our economy could be lost to other locations. …
Did Lingle intend to shut down the office, or was it simple bumbling, or lack of skill with Excel? She has not restored the cuts, so the office is dead.
And what of the Office of Elections? Disappeared News broke the story that the governor’s sharp paring knife left them with only $14,000 in operating funds against monthly expenses of around $7,000.
Although Hawaii needs to hold an election in 2010, Governor Lingle has refused to restore the money needed to do one.
But we know that there will actually be an election in 2010 (er, don’t we?). Surely, this must be simple bumbling on the governor’s part. I thought so at first, but the big picture suggests malice aforethought. It’s “disaster capitalism,” that is, taking advantage of a disaster (in this case the economic crisis) to further political aims.
Lingle has been slashing social services. Here is one more slash. By means of layoffs at the Office of Youth Services, all program and fiscal staff, except for a couple of top administrators, will be let go after November 13.
Yes, it looks to be an unlucky Friday the 13th for the 12,000 or so youth of Hawaii served by approximately 100 contracts administered by that office. Plus, as contracts end, providers will lose their jobs. Isn’t the idea of recovery to create jobs?
But this is just what Lingle ordered, it seems.
I don’t expect any big announcements at tomorrow’s legislative hearing, but it will be a chance for the press to learn the full impact of the destruction. I hope the reporters ask hardball questions about the intent of the administration’s layoffs, which have gone well beyond the myth of “sharing the burden equally.”
It is likely that the lawmakers can’t do a thing to reverse the damage. By statute, and by separation of powers, the executive branch has the ability to withhold funds apportioned by the Legislature, and to lay off employees.
No matter what funds lawmakers make available, Lingle can divert or withhold the amounts apportioned. During the last legislative session a record number of vetoes were overridden. But Lingle had the last laugh, since she can withhold the funds selectively, at her whim. Law of the land or not, without funds, those veto overrides have been rendered ineffective.
Yes, dear Senators and Representatives, I hate to bring you the bad news, but you’ve been neutered.
And the Hawaii Film Office is on the cutting room floor, along with the Office of Elections, the Office of Youth Services, and others that we may learn about tomorrow. Death by a thousand cuts.
Tomorrow, Wednesday August 12, the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Finance Committee will hold a joint hearing at 10:00 in room 309 at the State Capitol. The meeting announcement lists two purposes:
The purpose of this informational briefing is to obtain information from the Department of Budget & Finance and the Department of Taxation on the current status of the State’s fiscal outlook, including current tax collections, revenue enhancement programs, status of lapsing funds, and cost reductions.
The purpose of this informational briefing is to obtain information on Governor Lingle's "infrastructure improvement plan". This plan included 1,521 expedited capital improvement projects worth $1.8 billion dollars aimed at jump-starting the economy.
Prior to this hearing, at 8:30, Kevin Cronin, Chief Elections Officer, will meet with the Department of Budget and Finance. It appears he may be able to tap the salaries of four positions that are not filled in order to keep his office running with a skeleton crew. We’ll probably find out the result of their discussions at the 10 a.m. hearing. Even this temporary fix will not provide funds to mount an election in 2010.
Let’s see what news comes out of the hearing tomorrow.
Update: The hearing will be televised by `Olelo and Capitol TV starting at 10 a.m. on cable channel 53 or streaming from the `Olelo website. Just click this link to view.