Budget Bill Advances; Doubts Raised About OHA Settlement deal

Hawaii House of Representatives

BY JIM DOOLEY – The state House of Representatives today passed an $11 billion budget bill and two House committees gave very grudging approval to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s $200 million settlement deal with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The budget measure was described by Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Marcus Oshiro as a “prudent” approach to spending.

Although tax revenue projections rose last week, Oshiro, D-39th Dist. (Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley) cautioned that those figures are future estimates, “not cold hard facts.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Gene Ward (R-17th Dist. (Kalama Valley, Queen’s Gate, Hawaii Kai), warned that the state economy is still in a fragile state.

“We ain’t out of the woods yet and we have to be very cautious,” Ward said.

Abercrombie appeared before a joint meeting of the House Committees on Hawaiian Affairs and Water, Land and Ocean Resources to personally urge passage of the OHA settlement measure.

The deal, which has been endorsed by the OHA board of trustees, would transfer land worth an estimated $200 million to OHA to settle a decades-long legal dispute over compensation for royal lands now controlled by the federal and state governments.

Abercrombie stressed the importance of the measure to his administration, asking lawmakers to pass the measure in un-amended form.

The two committees did pass the measure, which has already cleared the Senate, but several members expressed strong reservations about the terms of the settlement.

Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-4th Dist., (Puna, Pahoa, Hawaiian Acres, Kalapana), chair of Hawaiian Affairs, repeatedly said “there needs to be more discussion” about details of the settlement, including its overall value and how OHA will use some of the property included in the deal.

Rep. Sharon Har, D-40th Dist. (Royal Kunia, Makakilo, Kapolei, Kalaeloa), vice chair of the Water Land and Ocean Resources Committee, raised concerns about a companion bill passed by the Senate which would ease development restrictions on two of the parcels meant to be transferred to OHA’s control.

“I do believe that the settlement did not have enough in it and we should be considering other parcels of land,” she said.

The parcels in the settlement proposals are on the ocean side of Ala Moana Boulevard in the Kakaako neighborhood of Honolulu, an area where community sentiment has been strongly opposed to high-rise residential development projects.

The companion bill passed by the Senate would permit residential development on two of the parcels and a prospect that has dismayed environmental and community activists.

“We’re just in a quandary because we’re being put in a situation to now support something under the guise of Native Hawaiian rights while hurting another group” that has worked to preserve property in the same area, said Har.