HONOLULU – Oink, oink. Hawaii’s U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has made a list of congressional officials hogging federal funds for pork barrel projects.
Citizens against Government Waste, a Washington, D.C., government watchdog group, released its annual Congressional Pig Book this week, highlighting $2.7 billion in government earmarks, including $5.9 million in funding Schatz secured for Honolulu’s East-West Center.
Since fiscal year 1997, the East-West Center has received 11 earmarks totaling $109.7 million.
The Congressional Pig Book is critical of the center, noting it was established by Congress in 1960 with no hearings, against opposition from the State Department.
“For years, the State Department tried to eliminate the center by not requesting funding in the department’s annual budget requests. After Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) passed away in 2013, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) willingly stepped up to the plate to defend the center,” the report said.
The report notes that in a Jan. 16, 2014 press release issued by Schatz’s staff, “Schatz claimed an appropriations victory for adding the $5.9 million to the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, making it clear that he is responsible for this earmark.”
Schatz countered in a statement to Watchdog.org that the East-West Center is important to Hawaii.
“Given that the East-West Center has a direct role supporting President Obama’s focus on the Asia-Pacific, one of my top priorities was to work with Senate leaders to increase funding for the Center and make sure Hawaii continues to do well in the appropriations process,” Schatz said.
“This is a mainland group that clearly doesn’t understand Hawaii’s needs and the investments that have always been important to our state,” he added.
Schatz maintained that making sure Hawaii continues to receive its “fair share” of funding is part of his job in the Senate.
The center, headquartered on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus, was established to promote better relations with Pacific and Asian nations. Its annual budget is over $30 million, according to filings with Guidestar.org.
The center has an alumni list of nearly 60,000, many of them prominent business, political and educational leaders throughout Asia and the Pacific. These include five members appointed by the U.S. secretary of state, five by the governor of Hawaii and five from Asia Pacific nations.
Congress enacted an earmark moratorium beginning in fiscal year 2011, the Congressional Pig Book notes, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers like Schatz from securing earmarks for their districts in the 12 appropriations bills funding the federal government.
“While the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill was declared earmark-free, the 2014 Pig Book includes projects that were identified as earmarks in prior years, raising the question of how they could have been earmarks then but not now. Of even greater consequence for taxpayers, members of Congress on both sides of the Capitol and from both sides of the aisle have been clamoring to restore earmarks and abandon the moratorium,” the report said.
The book noted that earmark totals dropped by nearly 30 percent between fiscal years 2012 and 2014, while their costs declined by more than 18 percent, from $3.3 billion to $2.7 billion, during that span.
Hawaii was also cited for receiving earmarks to subsidize high energy costs and to operate a mitigation program in high intensity drug trafficking areas.
Since fiscal year 2002, high energy cost grants have received five earmarks totaling $103.5 million, and were distributed to Alaska, Hawaii, several communities in certain other states, and in U.S. territories. Hawaii has the highest cost of electricity in the nation.
Since fiscal year 1997, 28 earmarks costing taxpayers $161.6 million have been provided for high intensity drug trafficking programs; 16 of the earmarks were directed to programs in 10 states, only two of which, Arizona and New Mexico, are border states.
Hawaii is among the eight other states that received earmarks for those programs. The others were Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com