BY MALIA HILL – At the Hawaii Sunshine website, we’ve made the state expenditures available to the public, so that citizens can see what their tax dollars are being spent on.

And our pork alert system lets people bring  attention to particular expenditures–to raise questions, provide information, or suggest further investigation into that entry.  Not long ago, we had a pork alert about . . . well . . . pork.

Literal pork, not metaphorical pork.  It was noted that the Department of Education paid $2345.97 to Higa Meat and Pork Market.  Well, one of the researchers at the Grassroot Institute looked into that expenditure and she found that there was more than met the eye to this pork:

The Department of Education contracts with people for one year for the varying foods and other items they need to provide school lunches. However, sometimes no one places a bid on a certain item, so no one gets the contract for that item.

Therefore, when the school system needs something in particular that they don’t already have a contract for (like apples) they put out a temporary cyclical bid, look at the three lowest offers, and choose one of them for a temporary contract for that certain item that they need for that certain time period. Higa Meat and Pork earned several of those temporary contracts in 2009 so that is why we see funds from the DOE special food service fund going towards Higa Meat and Pork.

Just because the site creates opportunities to identify government “pork” doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t expect to see plenty of reasonable expenditures there as well.  (Though of course definitions of “reasonable” will vary.)  But without a tool like Hawaii Sunshine, those questions don’t get raised, that research doesn’t get done, and Hawaii’s citizens don’t have a tool to let them evaluate government spending for themselves.  And there is the true value of transparency.