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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Assessing 'waste' as a campaign issue

Voters may find useful a new report unveiled by Republicans detailing what they say represents $668.1 million in waste and mismanagement by the Cayetano- Hirono administration (a phrase, by the way, that has become common currency only in this election year).

It's a preliminary report; the final report is due out in December, but you can guess why Republicans thought it would be useful to get it before the public three weeks before the election.

We agree with Rep. Joe Gomes, R-51st (Lanikai, Waimanalo) that the timing is "appropriate."

The draft was prepared by the House minority's state-paid staff. That appears to lay to rest a non-issue; howls of Republican anguish went up when Gov. Ben Cayetano used state-paid Tax Department staff to assess fiscal proposals by candidates (of both parties, mind you) in the run-up to the primary election.

It's a legitimate function, Rep. Galen Fox, R-21st (Waikiki, Ala Wai) says correctly, because it attempts to make sure tax dollars are well spent.

Exactly what Cayetano said.

Voters will want to take the contents of this or any politically motivated report with a grain of salt — especially if they hope it will identify $668 million that can readily be transferred to more productive use.

The amount of waste and mismanagement reported would indeed be enough to pay for the backlog and maintenance in all the state's public schools, as Rep. Bud Stonebraker, R-15th (Kalama Valley, Portlock) says.

But the opportunity to recapture most of that money is either lacking or long gone.

Much of the report is a recap of the findings of State Auditor Marion Higa going back as much as a decade, some but not all of which was corrected years ago.

Other items are matters of political preference. The report says the state's $40 million rabies-prevention program is unnecessary. We find that idea not only debatable, but a little scary. In any event, abolishing the program would require quite a bit more than electing more Republicans.

The report says almost $100 million of state money is in inappropriate special and revolving funds and should be put to better use. Each of those funds, of course, is an individual case to be debated individually. But it's highly unlikely those funds wouldn't have been rifled already by Democratic lawmakers, who have been searching desperately for found money in the last few years.

Rather than identifying money that can be put to other uses, the report summarizes a style of governing, if you will, that voters can evaluate.

You may or may not agree that the report "reveals that the current Cayetano-Hirono administration has put students, teachers and education in general on the back burner too long," as Stonebraker put it, but it's a useful proposition to consider.

What the report doesn't and can't say is whether a Republican government would do a better job.

That judgment is up to the voters.