Hawaii’s Shadow Budget

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Recently there has been criticism heaped on the Supreme Court of the United Sates for making very important rulings via a “shadow docket” consisting of motions for various kinds of emergency relief.  Those rulings are typically made on the papers alone, without the benefit of oral argument, and normally do not contain discussion of the precedents or the reasoning in the “normal” opinions of the Court.

Here in Hawaii, we have a shadow budget, not a shadow docket.

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First, this year’s budget includes $200 million that the Governor can spend at his discretion.  The big issue with the $200 million isn’t the basic concept – governors have been given discretionary funds before – but the way that line made its way into the budget bill.  Specifically, it wasn’t in the budget bill when the House-Senate conference committee voted to approve it.  The conference committee did vote to pass the budget bill “with amendments,” however, and the $200 million was then added to the bill before both houses held final votes on it a few days later, as House Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita acknowledged.  That left a bad taste in the mouth of some of the House members, especially, who vented their displeasure on the House floor and voted against the bill. 

Next, $50 million was included in the budget for a first responders’ training facility near Mililani.  It was included in an appropriation for the High Technology Development Corporation.  Earlier in the session, however, lawmakers had considered a first responders technology campus.  Rep. Amy Perruso, chair of the House Higher Education and Technology Committee, held hearings on the bill and found out that Honolulu Police Department had no intention to use the facility.  “We currently have the facilities … this bill proposes to create,” HPD testified.  Rep. Perruso’s committee killed the bill.  But some senators refused to take no for an answer, and through a “legislative adjustment” process added the appropriation to the budget bill anyway.  And there was retribution for a key dissenter.  The legislature passed a bill changing the legal requirements for membership on the board, which would have the effect of booting Vassilis Syrmos, one of the members of the HTDC’s board of directors critical of the first responders’ park.  (The language kicking out Mr. Symos wasn’t in that bill, HB 999, until the conference draft.)

And then, how about our public school teachers?  In HB 1004, lawmakers funded $187 million in the upcoming biennium to fund negotiated raises for unionized teachers.  But the budget bill taketh away what that bill giveth:  the budget bill contains a $167 million reduction of the Department of Education’s budget.  Rep. Jeanne Kapela complained that the budget “continues the historic underfunding of our public education system.”

And finally, the budget process had many similarities to “ready, fire, aim.”  As former Senator Russell Ruderman pointed out in a Civil Beat article, the Legislature’s vote to approve the budget bill was held on May 1.  The session ended May 4.  The final worksheets for the budget were released on May 15.  “The budget bill was not finished by the deadline,” Ruderman says, “and the ’leadership’ insisted that members vote on it anyway, even though many important expenditures were still blank. That is, they voted on a budget bill that they had not read, because it wasn’t written yet!”

Supreme Court, you have your shadow docket; we have our shadow budget.  Which is more mysterious and arcane?  More importantly, what’s wrong with this picture?

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