By Lynn Finnegan
This legislative session, in the face of the worst fiscal and economic crisis in our state’s history, the people of Hawaii were counting on their elected representatives to find solutions to balance the budget, create jobs, stimulate the economy, control the spiraling cost of living for our residents, reduce government spending, improve the quality of education and move us toward energy independence.
The Republicans said yes to the public. The Democrats said no.
Balancing the Budget and Maintaining Fiscal Responsibility
The Republicans said yes to a balanced budget without raising taxes and created a transparent six-year financial plan online for the public to see. In stark contrast, the Democrats said no, raised and created nearly $300 million in new taxes on our residents and businesses, and have not made their six-year financial plan transparent to the public.
The Republicans said yes to fiscal responsibility and fought for a bill to borrow from the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund (HHRF) to help end furlough Fridays and then pay it back in full within our six-year financial plan. The Democrats said no and opted for a full raid – a one-shot deal – and stated that the money in the HHRF should have reverted to the state general fund anyway.
The Republicans said yes to fiscal accountability of the more than $2 billion annual education budget by demanding a complete financial and management audit of the Department of Education (DOE). The Democrats said no and instead opted to pass a resolution for an audit, without the force of law.
The Republicans said yes to bold reform with clear and direct accountability and responsibility for education results and fought to allow the next governor to appoint the superintendent. The Democrats said no and instead passed a bill to form a selection committee – with no direct accountability to the public – that would give the governor a limited list of names to choose from to appoint Board of Education members.
Republicans said yes to alleviating barriers and supporting public charter schools. The Democrats said no by removing the specific language that allowed HHRF money to go to public charter schools to end furlough Fridays, leaving them to beg for equal funding from the charter school-resistant DOE.
The Democrats also said no to charter schools by continuing to prohibit charters from receiving their fair share of impact fees from developers. .The impact fees will affect the Big Island where half of the public charters are located. Charter schools already receive less funding per student. The charter school bill Democrats passed ensures that charters will continue to be funded at a low level.
The Republicans said yes to the innovative PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) bond program that provided for the state to create a loan program to help homeowners afford photovoltaic systems that would create clean energy jobs, move Hawaii toward a clean energy future, without raising taxes. Environmental groups, the energy industry, the Lingle-Aiona Administration, the counties and others also said yes to this program that has proven effective in other states.
Democrats initially said yes, and even introduced several bills in support of PACE. But in the end, politics won out and the Democrats said no and instead passed a bill to set up a yet another task force to study the issue.
The Republicans said yes to funding key state positions to carry on the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative in our balanced budget and six-year financial plan. The Democrats said no and ignored the clean energy commitment plan the Republicans proposed. Instead the Democrats increased the tax on every barrel of oil sold in the state. This 2000 percent tax increase, which Democrats called an itty-bitty tax, will cost our residents and businesses $22 million every year.
The Republicans said yes to improving the delivery of services and public assistance for our most vulnerable residents who receive welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits. Editorials in the Pacific Business News, Honolulu Advertiser, and Star Bulletin also said yes to the Department of Human Services (DHS) efforts to implement a modernization and reorganization plan to improve the processing and delivery of public assistance benefits – while saving taxpayers $8 million annually.
The Democrats said no to our most needy residents by rejecting this innovative plan – but they did say yes to preserving union jobs. At the behest of HGEA union leaders, Democrats passed a bill to block DHS’s bold statewide plan to restructure workflow by adding phone and online application services, strengthening accountability, and reducing the workforce by around 200 employees. The bill would limit DHS’s efforts to improve service to Oahu only, while leaving needy residents on the neighbor islands with continuing delays and backlogs in receiving vital public assistance.
Governor Lingle correctly vetoed this misguided and unfair bill, but Democrats said no to the poor (but yes to the unions) and overrode the governor’s veto. The Democrats said no to improving services, making government more efficient, and reducing cost for taxpayers.
These are just a few examples of the outcome of this legislative session and the repercussions of a super majority in the Legislature.
The eight Republicans in the Legislature said yes to the public, yes to accountability, yes to fiscal responsibility, yes to the quality of education, yes to clean energy, yes to job creation, and yes to helping our residents and businesses cope with rising costs of living.
The 68 Democrats just said no.
What party do you think is the party of no?
Lynn Finnegan is the House minority leader in the Hawaii State Legislature