BY MALIA HILL – Imagine for a moment that you had a few thousand dollars in loose change and bills behind the cushions of your couch, in your old jacket pockets, a spare wallet or two, and spread out through a few pairs of pants.

How big a jerk would you be in this situation if you then went to your best friend, told him you were totally broke, and asked to him to give you money to pay your rent?  If you answered, “No more a jerk than your average local politician,” you win.

Congratulations!  You truly understand the nature of Hawaii politics.

According to a recent report from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, the state has more that $1.4 billion in unspent excess funds sitting in “special funds” accounts–several of which have long been noted by the state auditor for repeal.

What is a “special fund”?  In short, it’s a little niche set-aside of state money for some specific purpose–say, public art education–funded through anything from state license fees to legislative appropriations.

You may recall that the 2009 Legislative Session included a finance bill that gave the Hawaii director finance authority to “raid” these special funds if necessary to pay government expenses.

This, not unnaturally, got some of us wondering exactly how much money there was available in these state special funds.  In light of the nearly relentless efforts to raise taxes and raid our wallets, the knowledge that there are untold millions of state dollars sitting around in untouched “special funds” is just a wee bit infuriating.

Thus, the Grassroot Institute launched its own investigation into the extent of Hawaii’s “special funds”.  You can read the full report here, but some highlights include:

  • In a review of 20 State Department reports, they found 186 accounts identified as special funds.
  • This accounts amounted to a combined excess balance of $1,412,357,203.
  • Divided equally among the population of Hawaii, these combined excess balances have a refund value of $1090.47.
  • The Hawaii Department of Transportation was the worst offender, with $582,449,161 reported as unspent, while the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation had the smallest excess at $34,837.

Really, how outrageous is the situation when the smallest, most responsible excess is still more money that many Hawaiians make in a year?

An economist once pointed out that there are four ways to spend money:

1. You can spend your own money on yourself, in which case you look for the best possible value in quality and price;

2. You spend other people’s money on yourself, in which case you look for the best quality and damn the price; or

3. You spend your money on other people, and look for the best value in terms of price and might compromise on value; and

4. You spend other people’s money on other people, and to heck with quality, value, price, or anything other than getting home from work a little earlier than usual.

Most government spending–especially as practiced in Hawaii–falls into Category 4.

We get nothing but sob stories from every possible state representative about lack of revenue.  We get tax increases and “Furlough Fridays” and guilt trips about the plight of government workers.  And all this time, they’ve been hoarding funds to the tune of $1.4 billion.  It boggles the mind.

Malia Blom Hill is with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. For more discussion of transparency in Hawaii, visit www.4hawaiiansonly.com

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