OHA asks Legislature for more money
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs yesterday asked legislators to more than double the state's share of the OHA budget for the next two years.
The move would allow OHA to pay its staff costs with taxpayer money as do other state agencies instead of using OHA's public land trust funds.
OHA administrator Clyde Namuo and newly elected trustee Dante Carpenter made the request at an informational hearing yesterday, sponsored jointly by the Senate and House committees that supervise Hawaiian affairs.
The proposed budget is for nearly $7 million for the 2003-2004 fiscal year and about $6.9 million for 2004-2005. Of those amounts, only about $1.3 million the first year and $1.2 million the second year would come from the trust fund built with OHA's share of the state's revenue of ceded lands.
The state law that established OHA 24 years ago spelled out that trustee salaries should come from the trust, but does not indicate that staff costs should be paid through ceded land revenues, Namuo said.
Namuo presented a bottom line that showed the state's general fund being tapped for $3.1 million more for each of the next two years than in the current budget.
Some lawmakers wondered whether this is the best time to ask for more money. Money is tight and the state is trying to clear up a dispute over the ceded lands, the former crown lands taken over by the state after annexation and statehood.
"To ask for more might have a negative reaction," said state Rep. Ezra Kanoho, chairman of the House Committee on Water, Land Use & Hawaiian Affairs. "There has to be some degree of sensitivity."
Namuo said the state used to pay about half of the staff costs but that the share has dwindled to about 25 percent over the past eight years.
"We thought this was patently unfair," he said. "Compare us with any other state agency."
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, said OHA will need to present an accounting of how many people of full, half or a lesser part Hawaiian blood are being served by its programs.
Hanabusa said the justification for using state money for staff costs might be that they are serving people who, under state law, don't qualify for ceded lands money, which is supposed to be for those of at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood.
However, Gov. Linda Lingle also underscored yesterday the difficulty any agency will face getting more money this year. Speaking before the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, Lingle repeated her commitment to settle the ceded lands issue and join OHA in its lobbying for a new bill to give Hawaiians federal recognition.
She said she would travel to the U.S. Capitol Feb. 19 and, along with Hawai'i's congressional delegation, meet with with Bush administration officials in support of the bill.
Lingle was less enthusiastic, however, about any agency's bid for more money.
"I think any agency that comes for more money, they're going to have to identify where the money is coming from," she said.
After the legislative budget hearing, Oswald Stender, the trustee charged with budgetary matters on the OHA board, said the board is trying to winnow its bureaucracy. Once the state resolves the legal dispute over how much money from ceded lands should come to the agency, OHA will be able to live within its means, Stender said.
"Give us that entitlement, then we'll know how we can operate with the funds we have on hand," he said.